Washington, D.C.–– The U.S. Department of Education has announced that it plans to rescind regulations which protect religious organizations on public college and university campuses.
“We’re calling on people of every faith background to submit comments in opposition to the Department’s decision," said Greg Jao, InterVarsity’s Chief Communications Officer. “In recent years universities have derecognized Christian, Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim student groups because the groups require their leaders to belong to their respective faith traditions. This should be common sense on campus.” The comment period ends March 24, 2023. The existing regulations in question (34 CFR §§ 75.500 and §§ 76.500) prohibited universities from discriminating against religious student groups and required campuses to permit groups to select student leaders who agreed with the groups’ beliefs.
“We must have leaders who share our faith,” Jao said in 2019 when a federal judge ruled that the University of Iowa violated the law when they kicked InterVarsity and other religious groups off campus. “No group—religious or secular—could survive with leaders who reject its values.”
Student groups with official university recognition enjoy access to campus meeting space and to a variety of channels of communication with other students. Religious organizations from diverse faith traditions agree they want to maintain their right to choose leaders who practice their religious mission and tenets.
When the regulation in question came into effect in 2020, Ismail Royer, Director of the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team for the Religious Freedom Institute said it was an important policy for Muslim student organizations. “It allows them to select their own leaders and define their own mission by their faith's principles. This right should be reserved for all student religious organizations, and not usurped by university officials based on their own shifting, unpredictable standards.”
Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s Vice President for Government Affairs similarly noted, “Religious groups should be encouraged on campus. It simply defies logic, and undermines their very effectiveness, when religious groups are forced to forfeit leadership policies that better insure adherence to their religious mission, beliefs and practices.”
“After several years of isolation and increased anxiety during the pandemic, students long to be part of a community where they can be known and cared for. InterVarsity welcomes them into ethnically diverse faith communities,” said InterVarsity’s Chief Campus Ministry Officer, Jason Thomas. ”However, if this proposed change is adopted, tens of thousands of students risk losing access to support that is vital to their holistic welfare and flourishing.”
InterVarsity USA is on over 700 campuses nationwide, hosting weekly Bible studies, prayer and worship meetings, and seeks to serve students, faculty, and the local community, while displaying and sharing the real hope of Jesus.
If you’d like to share why you think religious student organizations on campus should be protected, please submit a comment at campusaccess.us by March 23, 2023.