California State University, a public university system composed of 23 campuses, recently de-recognized local chapters of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a student-led evangelical ministry. The decision was in response to InterVarsity’s refusal to sign a general non-discrimination statement that would require the organization to admit non-Christians.
While exclusion may be a legitimate concern, de-recognition is not the answer. Faith-based groups are valuable and deserve a place on university campuses. In addition to bringing together people of common faiths, such organizations offer resources available to students from all different corners of a university. “A cross-section of the Christian fellowships at [the University] would reveal an inviting community made up of many different peoples and cultures,” wrote Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship President Nick Doolittle in an email. “These groups bring students together from all parts of the University through events like late-night Beta Bridge pancakes, international student cookouts, and inner-city tutoring.” I urge the administration at California State University to consider the ways in which faith-based groups such as InterVarsity enrich a college environment.
As a result of de-recognition, local chapters will be denied access to meeting rooms on campus, student fairs and other official school functions. InterVarsity spokesman Greg Jao estimates the annual cost of covering such losses will be $20,000 per chapter, effectively preventing hundreds of students from participating in a religious activity without significant financial obstacles. In de-recognizing InterVarsity, California State University’s administration is guilty of excluding members of a religious faith from the student life experience they seek.
It is unfair for California State University to hold a Christian organization that refuses non-Christian members to a higher standard than other organizations that require their members to meet certain criteria. Debating societies are able to deny members who aren’t seeking debate. Likewise, faith-based organizations should be able to turn away people who are not seeking prayer, evangelism or other elements of religious groups.
It is important to note that while Christian fellowships may exclude non-Christians from leadership positions, membership policies are not written with malicious intent. One cannot compare InterVarsity’s exclusion of non-Christians from leadership positions with racial or gender discrimination in student organizations. Faith-based requirements for acceptance in a student ministry may be necessary to ensure that members of the group adhere to the core convictions of the faith.
Moreover, there already exists a stigma attached to faith-based groups on university campuses. By refusing to recognize InterVarsity, the California State University administration risks amplifying negative perceptions of religious and spiritual involvement at secular institutions. Faith-based groups allow many individuals to feel comfortable with their beliefs at colleges where students are increasingly rejecting religion from their lives. An incoming first-year student who is insecure about his beliefs may find the presence of faith-based groups assuring. Each year, faith-based groups at the University occupy tables at the Fall Activities Fair and welcome students with interests in religious life. Religious communities at the University are vibrant. If our administration were to de-recognize these groups and deny them a space to operate, students may hold on to negative perceptions about religious involvement on Grounds, keeping them from participating in an activity they might otherwise find to be their niche.
California State University’s de-recognition of InterVarsity points to a disturbing trend of discrimination against faith-based groups, particularly Christian fellowships, at universities. Among other schools that have sanctioned InterVarsity for similar reasons are Vanderbilt University, Tufts University and Rollins College. It is easy to see why many Christian students and leaders feel that religious groups at college campuses are under attack.
Universities strive to create a marketplace of ideas in which freedom of expression and open public discourse are cultivated. Even at a secular institution, religious voices belong in the marketplace of ideas. California State University’s administration made the wrong decision and should retract its de-recognition of InterVarsity.
Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.