University grants Christian group official status amid lawsuit alleging discrimination

University professor addresses his students during a lecture. | Getty Images

The University of Houston-Clear Lake has granted a Christian student organization full recognition as a campus student group after a legal challenge was filed claiming that the school discriminated by excluding the group as a registered student organization.

The conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom has claimed victory after the Christian student group Ratio Christi sued the university over claims that its official status as a student group was denied for unlawful reasons. However, the school rejects the claim that it ever denied the student group official status. 

In a statement, ADF reported that the university quickly gave Ratio Christi the recognized status after the legal complaint was filed against school officials last Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

“Ratio Christi received the good news they deserve—as a result of our lawsuit, the University of Houston-Clear Lake has now fully recognized the Christian student organization as a registered club on campus, granting them equal treatment among their peer groups,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton.

“We commend the university and its general counsel for taking quick action to correct this injustice. Now, the university must do the next right thing and rescind the unconstitutional policies that are still in place that were used to exclude Ratio Christi because it requires its leaders to agree with its values and mission.”

The university denies it ever discriminated against Ratio Christi and argues that the lawsuit was filed while the school was still processing the group’s paperwork.

“The University of Houston-Clear Lake has approved Ratio Christi as a registered student organization,” said University spokesperson Shawn Lindsey in a statement to The Washington Times.

“This is not the reversal of a prior decision. The application was never denied and was still in process when the lawsuit was filed.”

When a student group lacks registered student organization status, it cannot reserve on-campus spaces, invite speakers for events or use funds reserved by the university for student groups.

“UHCL’s refusal to grant Ratio Christi RSO status violates Plaintiffs’ free exercise, expressive association, free speech, and equal protection rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the complaint states.

“The First Amendment protects the right of all student organizations to associate around shared beliefs. The fact that UHCL disregards that right when it comes to Ratio Christi is particularly egregious because UHCL has treated Ratio Christi differently because of its religious beliefs.”

The complaint further claimed that the university was using its anti-discrimination policy to bar Ratio Christi from receiving RSO status, namely Ratio Christi’s rules that restrict its leadership to Christians.

The legal filing alleged that the university’s anti-discrimination policies allowed non-religious student organizations to limit their leadership positions and membership to students who agree with their mission but would not let religious student groups do the same.  

“Under the RSO Policies, RSOs cannot discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, veteran status, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity and gender expression — that is, unless the organization is the Vietnamese Student Association, International Student Advisory Board, Student Veterans Association, a sorority, or sport club team,” the complaint reads. 

In 2019, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs settled with its Ratio Christi chapter after initially barring the group from becoming an official student club.

The settlement included the University of Colorado granting Ratio Christi registered status upon resubmitting paperwork, paying $20,574 in damages and revising the school’s Club & Organization Handbook to include a provision explaining that all student clubs can require leaders to adhere to a particular set of beliefs.

In July, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the University of Iowa discriminated against InterVarsity Christian Fellowship by deregistering the club as an official student group.

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