The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ordered officials at the University of Florida to recognize a Christian fraternity, which had filed a lawsuit for discrimination.
Judges from the federal appeals court in Atlanta issued the injunction on Wednesday, ordering the school to officially acknowledge Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX), or Brothers Under Christ, a 23-year-old fraternity currently allowed on at least 20 other campuses nationwide. The fraternity will be able to operate as an active "on-campus" student organization at the university this coming fall.
"This ruling is encouraging to the young men of Beta Upsilon Chi at the University of Florida, but more importantly it makes a strong national statement that the rights of religious freedom and free association must be respected by universities," said Brett Williams, board member of Beta Upsilon Chi.
Christian Legal Society and Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a discrimination lawsuit against school officials last year after the fraternity was denied official student organization status because university rules bar religious discrimination. Beta Upsilon Chi requires its members to be Christian men as its purpose is to establish "brotherhood and unity among college men based on the common bond of Jesus Christ."
"The 11th Circuit seems to understand that Christian student groups cannot be singled out for discrimination. The right to associate with people of like mind and interest applies to all student groups on a public university campus," said Litigation Counsel Timothy J. Tracey with Christian Legal Society's Center for Law & Religious Freedom, in a statement.
"We are confident that the court will not allow the University of Florida to continue to deprive BYX of this right by forcing the group to abandon its identity as a Christian men's organization."
The lawsuit claims that without official recognition, the fraternity cannot receive official benefits given to other groups, including access to meeting space and the ability to advertise and recruit members on campus.
BYX appealed to the 11th Circuit when the district court denied a preliminary injunction to the fraternity. The lawsuit is currently under appeal in Florida.
In a similar case in December 2006, the University of Georgia agreed to recognize the Christian fraternity after a lawsuit was filed.