Wayne State University Reverses Decision to Derecognize InterVarsity Group for Requiring Its Leaders to Be Christian

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DETROIT, Mich. — Wayne State University has reversed its decision to derecognize InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a student group because of its requirement that its leaders be Christian.

The reversal comes just two days after InterVarsity sued the school over the revocation of its status, even though the discussion about the matter has been ongoing since last fall.

According to the lawsuit, filed by the religious liberties group Becket, last October, then-group president Cristina Garza received a notice that InterVarsity’s submitted constitution was not able to be approved by the university. The constitution outlines that those of all faiths are permitted to attend meetings, but all leaders must share in the group’s faith and mission, as their responsibilities will include leading Bible study, prayer and worship.

Garza was informed that the requirement violated Wayne State’s non-discrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination based on “race, color, sex (including gender identity), national origin, religion, age, sexual orientation, familial status, marital status, height, weight, disability, or veteran status.”

University officials consequently derecognized InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a campus group, leaving its members unable to freely reserve space to meet on campus, apply for funding or use an online portal to post announcements. The group has been consequently paying out of its own pocket to rent meeting space.

National President Tom Lin then wrote to Wayne State University officials, seeking a resolution to the problem. However, he was informed that an agreement could take a number of months and that there was no rush to settle the matter.

As a result, InterVarsity had to pay for a table at WinterFest and was placed on a different floor than recognized student groups—and in a location that was reportedly far from the entrance doors.

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The group consequently decided to take action and now is concerned that such punishments could spread to other schools in the state. It sued Wayne State University on Tuesday, seeking an injunction and contending that the university’s actions were selective, and therefore, in themselves discriminatory.

Read InterVarsity’s lawsuit against Wayne State here.

Becket notes that the hundreds of student groups at Wayne State University are allowed to select their leaders in accordance with their purpose and mission.

“The Secular Student Alliance can require leaders to be secularists, Students for Life can require its members to be pro-life, and more than a dozen fraternities and sororities can limit membership to one sex,” it noted in a case summary this week.

“These requirements are normal and acceptable, yet the school blatantly discriminates against InterVarsity by barring it from having the same ability to select leaders who share and live by its mission. In fact, by specifically targeting religious groups, Wayne State is violating its own policy against religious discrimination—in addition to the First Amendment,” Becket said.

On Thursday, just two days after the lawsuit was filed, Wayne State University decided to reinstate Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’s official recognition as a student group.

“After a review of the situation and communicating with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship organization, Wayne State has decided to recertify the group as an official student organization,” spokesperson Matt Lockwood told Fox News. “The InterVarsity student group is committed to welcoming and including all students, and the university will not intervene in the group’s leadership selection.”

Becket expressed relief, as well as hopes that the school will return the more than $2,000 InterVarsity had to pay to reserve space for meetings and participate in events.

“It’s good that Wayne State saw the light after it felt the heat,” Senior Council Lori Windham said in a statement. “But after putting these students through the runaround for months, a last-minute change of heart is hardly enough. This kind of official religious discrimination should never happen again. And Wayne State needs to return the thousands of dollars it charged the student group.”

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  • HpO

    My greatest disappointment in this yet another LOST HOLY OPPORTUNITY is, in disobedience to God & Jesus, my people of faith have refused to turn the other cheek to, from their point of view, the wrongdoers. OMG forbid – dumb lawsuits have now become their pseudo-protectors of the faith (and corporate mammon, to boot). DUMB. There I said it in the (virtual) presence of all my fellow born-again Christian brothers & sisters.

    But here, though, what’s the cause for celebration, ‘yo?

    No thing! Wayne U got it right in the end. No need to defend in a dumb lawsuit they know they can’t win – DUH.

    Look it: According to Ann Zaniewski, “Wayne State University re-certifies Christian student group InterVarsity”, Detroit Free Press, March 9, 2018:

    “The university released this statement Thursday: ‘Wayne State University values student groups as an integral part of campus life and co-curricular learning. We strive to foster student groups that are inclusive, diverse, and expand student experiences. After a review of the situation and communicating with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship organization, Wayne State has decided to recertify the group as an official student organization. The InterVarsity student group is committed to welcoming and including all students, and THE UNIVERSITY WILL NOT INTERVENE IN THE GROUP’S LEADERSHIP SELECTION.'”

    Happy now, ‘yo?

    Not exactly in the spirit of Matthew 5:12 (“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you”), is it, though?

    A LOST HOLY OPPORTUNITY, this! Woe to us all.

  • bowie1

    I suppose if that decision had not been made then would a creationist be allowed to be on a science club board since they are criticized for being “un-scientific”.

    • HpO

      There’s one group that’s practicing their own “exceptionalism” to this Wayne State U vs IVP case and they’re vocal about it over at Friendly Atheist. I’m talking about the Secular Student Alliance. And yet, according to the so-called “Code of Regulations of the Secular Student Alliance”, they’re pretty much in the InterVarsity’s shoes:

      “The purpose of the Secular Student Alliance is to bring about a society in which the ideals of scientific rationality, secularism, and human based ethics flourish. … The Secular Student Alliance specifically seeks to organize, unite, educate and serve students and student communities that promote the ideals of scientific rationality, secularism, and human based ethics. … Any individual who agrees with the purpose of the Secular Student Alliance is eligible for organizational membership. … Decision to admit Organizational Members shall be made by an officer of the Secular Student Alliance, designated by the Board of Directors. In the event that an applicant is not accepted for Organizational Membership by the officer, the applicant may appeal the decision to the Board of Directors, which shall vote on the final membership admission decision. … Organizational Membership shall terminate upon the determination of the Board of Directors after hearing duly held by a committee with no fewer than two Directors designated by the Board of Directors to make such determination, that the member has failed in a material respect to observe conduct befitting a member of the Secular Student Alliance as determined by the Board of Directors. … Any Organizational member in good standing who is neither a member of the nominating committee nor a member of the Board of Directors who casts a vote on the list of prospective candidates is eligible to run for election to the Board of Directors. No other person is eligible for election to the Board of Directors.”