Friday, December 29, 2006

God and Groups in Missouri

The University of Missouri is giving into a "Christian fraternity" that violates campus anti-discrimination rules. If this University of Missouri group wants to be discriminatory based on the religious views of students, they are free to do so: anyone can form a private group. But if they want recognition from a public university, they should have to follow these neutral rules that apply to all student organizations. They can be a Christian group without having a constitutional rule banning non-Christians from membership.

1 comment:

Sherman Dorn said...

There are serious problems with trying to impose specific anti-discrimination rules on some but not all private organizations. Most public universities allow fraternities to restrict membership by sex, and most public universities also have Young Republican and College Democrat chapters, many of which I presume are also membership-restricted by partisan registration. If a university allows fraternities, sororities, and campus political organizations that have membership rules, I don't think a college can decide that only religion is an impermissible membership requirement.

Part of the difficulty is that this question is about the interface between a private organization and a public university. A public university could theoretically ban all private organizations on a uniform basis, but I don't think it serves educational or public purposes to sanitize the public square. Once you let students with memberships in private organizations bring those organizations to campus, then you have to treat the organizations fairly, and the first amendment protections of association come into play.

What is legitimate as a requirement is that any recognized student group have a public purpose and public activities that are community-wide and nondiscriminatory. That's reasonably tied into the public purposes of a university and college education and makes a distinction between the membership of a private organization and what normally falls under public-accommodation provisions of civil-rights laws.