For Immediate Release
(Madison, WI) – On Monday, October 2, 2006, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter at the University of Wisconsin-Superior filed suit in federal court against the President of the University of Wisconsin, Kevin Reilly; the University of Wisconsin system; the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents; UW-Superior Chancellor Julius Erlenbach; and UW-Superior Dean of Student Life Stewart Platner. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship-UW Superior (InterVarsity-Superior) is the local, student-run chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA (IVCF). InterVarsity is asking the UW-Superior to reinstate the chapter and allow all InterVarsity chapters on UW campuses to use religious criteria for the selection of chapter officers.
The University of Wisconsin claims that its anti-discrimination policy prohibits InterVarsity-Superior from using a religious test to qualify candidates for leadership of a religious organization. On February 8, 2006, InterVarsity-Superior was notified that it was being derecognized for the 2006-2007 school year because it required its leaders to affirm InterVarsity’s Basis of Faith. The chapter has about 50 members and has been active on the UW-Superior campus for about 40 years.
InterVarsity-Superior believes that the university’s position denies any religious organization the ability to maintain its own identity by requiring the organization to avoid using religious criteria for its leadership standards. InterVarsity believes the leadership of all of its chapters should be committed to the historic Christian beliefs upon which InterVarsity is organized.
InterVarsity-Superior believes the university’s position violates First Amendment religious and free speech rights, as well as freedom of association and self-identification of organizations. It also violates simple logic: an organization must be able to choose leaders that identify with its goals and its reason for existence. It would be just as inappropriate to require the Young Democrats to allow Republicans as their leaders or women’s sports clubs to be led by male members.
InterVarsity is committed to genuine dialogue about spiritual and religious issues on the university campus. More than 25% of the students and faculty participating in InterVarsity groups do not identify themselves as Christians and are welcome at InterVarsity activities. Only the elected student leadership is required to subscribe to basic and historic tenets of the Christian faith.
InterVarsity believes that a July 10, 2006, decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, granting a preliminary injunction in the case of Christian Legal Society v. Walker, establishes a clear precedent for groups such as InterVarsity on University of Wisconsin campuses. The decision prohibits the university from discriminating against a religious organization for its religious standards of leadership (or, in the case of the Christian Legal Society, for its standards of membership).
Decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have established clear precedents that public universities cannot choose to fund or otherwise support student organizations that agree with the administration’s ideological viewpoint and derecognize those organizations that disagree.
- Widmar v. Vincent (1980). The University of Missouri at Kansas City cannot bar a Christian student group access to university facilities.
- Rosenberger v. University of Virginia (1995). A Christian student newspaper is entitled to university funding.
- University of Wisconsin v. Southworth (2000). Students shouldn’t be forced to fund campus organizations unless all organizations have viewpoint-neutral access to funding.
In 2002, InterVarsity filed legal action against Rutgers University after InterVarsity’s Multiethnic chapter was derecognized. The case was settled by negotiation after the university agreed to protect InterVarsity’s First Amendment rights.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA has been a Christian ministry working on U.S. college campuses since 1941. InterVarsity currently oversees 843 student chapters on 573 college and university campuses across the United States. Additional staff work at InterVarsity’s National Service Center in Madison, Wisconsin; InterVarsity camps; and at InterVarsity Press in Downers Grove, Illinois. InterVarsity is a founding member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, advancing Christian student work in 150 countries.
Background information on InterVarsity’s position is available online at: http://www.intervarsity.org/page/campusaccess/uwsuperior1
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