In September 2002, the Administration of Rutgers University suspended the multiethnic chapter of InterVarsity, alleging that the chapter’s constitution violated the university’s anti-discrimination policies. The university claims that by insisting that student leaders affirm InterVarsity’s Statement of Faith, the chapter discriminates on the basis of religion.
For more than three months, student leaders and InterVarsity staff members have sought a resolution to the suspension, that would allow the chapter to remain on campus and maintain religious standards for leadership. When the university refused to reconsider reinstating InterVarsity, the chapter filed a complaint in federal court on December 30, 2002 asking for an injunction requiring Rutgers to recognize the chapter.
In September 2002, the Fellowship was suspended by Rutgers University – and denied access to University facilities and student activity fee funds – because the Fellowship’s constitution did not contain the University’s mandatory anti-discrimination statement. The statement reads as follows:
“Membership shall be open to all Rutgers University students and must comply with federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of . . . religious affiliation. Compliance with these laws means that membership, benefits and the election of officers will not be made on the basis of these factors.”
Since the Fellowship’s constitution states that “only those persons committed to the Basis of Faith and the Purpose of this organization are eligible for leadership positions,” the Fellowship violated University policy. In other words, by using explicitly religious criteria to make leadership decision, the Fellowship “discriminates” on the basis of religion. Since Rutgers deems such discrimination unlawful, it suspended the Fellowship.
Attempts to resolve this situation
InterVarsity student leaders and local staff discussed the issue with the Student Affairs Office and the Dean’s Office of Rutgers University. The local chapter moved its meetings off campus while the issue remains unresolved and has sought amicable relations with school officials. InterVarsity’s legal counsel sent letters to the university outlining the First Amendment rights of the student group and offered instances where other universities have maintained the balance of religious freedom and non-discrimination without prejudicing constitutional rights of assembly or speech.
Occurrences at other schools
InterVarsity’s right to be a recognized student group on campus has been challenged on dozens of campuses in the past decade. In some cases, chapters were de-recognized or suspended temporarily. But in every case, these challenges have been resolved without resorting to litigation. This is the first time that a public university has insisted that a religious group on campus cannot choose its leadership on the basis of religious criteria.
Does this happen to other religious groups?
Other religious groups have been similarly challenged from time to time, but like InterVarsity, they resolve the issue without litigation. Some religious groups are content not to be recognized student organizations, or have off-campus student centers. Throughout InterVarsity’s 60-year history, we have maintained chapters that are recognized by the university as legitimate student-run groups, fully integrated into the university extra-curricular system. Rutgers University currently reviews the constitutions of all student organizations every three years, on a rotating basis, and at this point InterVarsity is the only organization whose constitution was found in violation of the school’s policies.
The New Testament and legal action
On issues related to the rights of citizens, the Apostle Paul appealed to representatives of government for redress on several occasions. In Acts 22:22-29, for example, he averted a personal injustice by appealing to his Roman citizenship. This not only spared him from personal pain, but also protected the Roman authorities who would have been called to account for abusing the rights of citizens (V. 29). Paul later appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25:11), according to his citizen rights. Christians are not prohibited from using legal means to redress wrongs.
Jesus recognized the requirements and strictures of the legal process (Matthew 5:25,26) and urged those charged to seek resolution outside of the court system. While “everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), Christians refrain from threats and retaliation in order to live peaceably as citizens of the land.
The court grants the university time to review the complaint and to prepare its case, if it so chooses. Conversations continue between the university and InterVarsity in an effort to resolve the impasse without the need to pursue the case further in the courts.
For more information, contact:
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship