For Immediate Release: July 10, 2019
(Madison, Wisconsin) – InterVarsity today asked a federal court to rule that public universities must treat religious student groups equally with other campus groups. In InterVarsity Christian Fellowship v. Wayne State University, InterVarsity had its 75-year-old student organization status suddenly revoked by Wayne State University’s administration because the Christian student group asks its leaders to embrace its faith. But other student groups, such as the Quidditch Club, are allowed to select leaders and members based on the groups’ missions. InterVarsity is seeking equal treatment with those groups.
InterVarsity’s Wayne State chapter is one of over 400 student organizations at the university, which allows dozens of groups to have requirements for membership and leadership positions. The Secular Student Alliance can require their leaders to be secularists, Students for Life can require their leaders to be pro-life, and both Greek groups and sports clubs (like the Quidditch Club) can limit members or leaders to a single gender. But in the fall of 2017, after 75 years of serving the campus community, InterVarsity’s student organization status was revoked and all their meetings were cancelled because they require their leaders to be Christian. According to Wayne State, InterVarsity’s common-sense leadership policy was suddenly “discriminatory.” In court today, Becket argued that Wayne State’s actions were unfair and unconstitutional.
“InterVarsity seeks to serve Wayne State University, its students and faculty, and the local community,” said Greg Jao, Director of External Relations at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. “We invite the university to embrace a common-sense understanding of its nondiscrimination policy. The policy should protect, rather than penalize, religious groups that seek to retain their religious identity on campus.”
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a national organization of Christian college students with over 1,100 chapters in schools throughout the country. At Wayne State, InterVarsity provides a place for Christian students to gather together and practice their faith through Bible studies, worship opportunities and service projects. InterVarsity welcomes all students as members, and anyone is welcome to participate in its activities.
With Becket’s help, InterVarsity took Wayne State to court to defend its right to select leaders who share the group’s beliefs and mission, just like other student groups on campus. After the lawsuit was filed, Wayne State temporarily relented, but still argued that InterVarsity was discriminating in violation of the law and could be kicked off at any time.
“If the Campus Democrats can pick progressive leaders, and Sigma Pi can require their members to be only men, Wayne State should have known they were asking for a fight by denying InterVarsity the same treatment,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. “There is no excuse for the blatant religious targeting that these students have faced.”
The court is expected to issue a decision in this case in the fall.
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- Complaint (March 6, 2018)
- Case page for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship v. Wayne State University (press releases and legal documents)
News Coverage of the Hearing: