Christian Group InterVarsity Regains Recognition at SUNY Buffalo

Ruling: "Common sense," not discrimination, for a religious group to require leaders to agree with its core beliefs

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By Lillian Kwon, Christian Post Reporter
August 9, 2012|3:20 pm

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is no longer a de-recognized organization at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

The student group was under scrutiny after it was accused of discrimination for requiring its leaders to affirm a set of Christian beliefs. But the university's Student Wide Judiciary ruled last month that it is "common sense" and not discrimination for a religious group to want its leaders to agree with its core beliefs.

"We cannot expect student organizations to ignore their defining purposes in selecting officers, and the pretense that we do has caused an unnecessary and harmful battle that pits 'equality' against the First Amendment rights of students," the SWJ stated in its decision.

The decision was met with praise.

Nicholas C. D'Angelo, co-president of InterVarsity at UB, said in a statement this week, "We hope the SWJ decision sets a precedent that protects all groups on campus and creates a genuinely diverse campus environment that values differences.

"The chapter remained focused and united during this time. Having our presence on campus challenged served to strengthen awareness of our mission and our commitment to the mission."

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InterVarsity has served as a campus ministry on college and university campuses for more than 71 years. It has grown to more than 890 chapters on more than 575 campuses. But on 41 campuses, the ministry's status has become an issue in recent years.

At UB, InterVarsity was suspended last year by the Student Association for possible violation of the school's nondiscrimination policy. The suspension came after an openly gay student resigned from the group as its treasurer. Steven Jackson stated to The Spectrum that he does not view Scripture "as reliable as they (other InterVarsity leaders) do."

InterVarsity requires student leaders to be in agreement with its doctrinal statement and purpose statement, and to live a life of Christian integrity.

The issue with Jackson, according to Jim Lundgren, director of Collegiate Ministries for InterVarsity, was not his sexual orientation but rather his decision to "pursue a sexually active homosexual relationship."

Following the suspension, InterVarsity was de-recognized in April.

Restoring the group's status as an officially recognized club on campus, the SWJ ruled that the ministry has not violated the school's policy since it does not exclude anyone from being a member.

And requiring leaders to adhere to certain beliefs is not illegal discrimination, it further ruled.

"The right of religious groups to select their leaders according to their religious beliefs has long been protected by federal law as a basic component of religious liberty," the SWJ stated.

It also added, "Nondiscrimination policies serve important purposes. They are intended to protect religious students, not punish them for being religious."

The SWJ said it intends for its ruling in this case to "serve as precedent" for similar cases that arise in the future.

InterVarsity spokesman Gordon Govier told The Christian Post that while the ministry's status became an issue on dozens of campuses, most were resolved without any action taken.

However, the ministry continues to face hurdles as it has been de-recognized on other campuses, including Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt's all-comers policy requires religious organizations to allow all students to run for leadership positions, even if the students do not agree with the beliefs of the group.

Nevertheless, InterVarsity is continuing to function on the campuses even without official recognition.

 

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