Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain is sponsoring a bill that would protect the integrity of student religious and political organizations in his state’s public universities. A response to CLS v. Martinez , the 2010 Supreme Court decision that upheld Hastings College of Law’s decision to deny access and status to a Christian Legal Society chapter that required creedal adherence of its leadership, this bill would override university anti-discrimination rules so that organizations like CLS could remain true to their missions. The bill has passed the Senate and seems on track to pass the House as well.

“Critics of the legislation say that it undermines campus anti-bias policies and  that it’s not solving any problem. That’s because, they say, students aren’t  trying to take over groups that they disagree with.” I assume that the anti-bias policies are there for a reason, purporting to guarantee students access to organizations with whose moral, religious, and political commitments they disagree. If no student who disagreed with the traditional morality favored by, say, CLS sought to join it (or more precisely lead it), the anti-discrimination rules would seem to be unnecessary. But, you say, the rules are symbolic, fostering a certain campus culture and telling everyone where the university stands.

It’s a culture and a stand that is antithetical to genuine diversity and pluralism, which ought to permit people to associate in groups with missional coherence and integrity. Virginia seems well on its way to affirming true pluralism, teaching its public colleges and universities a thing or two along the way. If we take the folks inside the ivy-covered walls at their word, then nothing really should change. But of course something will: a club that has been used to beat clubs over the head will no longer be available to campus administrators. They’ll have to add CLS, Intervarsity, and Campus Crusade to the list of exclusive groups (like fraternities and sororities) that they already countenance.

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg

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