School Recognizes Christian Group Following Lawsuit, Landmark Ruling

Southern Illinois University (SIU)'s law school in Carbondale, Ill., has agreed to recognize a Christian student group following a recent lawsuit.

A settlement was reached last week between Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which was acting on behalf of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), and SIU officials stating that the university would accept the leadership policies of the student group, which it had condemned before. As a result, CLS will now be officially recognized.

"Every student group has the right to ensure that its leaders and members support its mission; religious student groups should be treated no differently," explained Casey Mattox, litigation counsel for CLS's Center for Law & Religious Freedom, in a statement. "This settlement ensures CLS at SIU will enjoy all of the rights and benefits enjoyed by other law school organizations."

CLS, a national grassroots network of lawyers and law students, and ADF attorneys had taken the school to court in April 2005 after the college had revoked the group's registration as well as the associated benefits that come from being fully recognized.

SIU officials pulled their support for CLS because of the student association's "Statement of Faith" and social morality standards for voting members. The school administrators felt that the policy was discriminatory in terms of both religion and sexual orientation, which went against the college's affirmative action policy.

In July 2006, the case then went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which ruled that the school must recognize the chapter while the case was still pending. The court also explained that the association would most likely win the lawsuit, noting that SIU's policy violated First Amendment rights of free speech. Furthermore, CLS's policy on sexual misconduct outside of marriage was not ruled as "sexual orientation" discrimination.

SIU and CLS decided to reach a settlement as a result.

"[The] settlement can be highly credited to the 7th Circuit's decision in this case," added Mattox, "a landmark ruling for the rights of religious student organizations on college campuses."

As part of the settlement, SIU administration has also agreed to create a $10,000 scholarship fund for "deserving" SIU law students. CLS will administer the fund.