Fact Sheet: University of Wisconsin - Superior Access

What happened?

On February 8, 2006, the InterVarsity chapter at UW-Superior learned that it had been 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-S campus for about 40 years.

Why is this issue important?

InterVarsity is committed to establishing and advancing Christian communities on campus. In order to be a Christian community on campus, we need to have student leaders who are committed to historic, orthodox doctrinal beliefs. To ensure that we have such leaders, InterVarsity’s student leaders need to be able to vet candidates for leadership. The University of Wisconsin’s anti-discrimination policy prohibits InterVarsity from using a religious test to qualify candidates for leadership of a religious organization thus denying the identity and viability of a Christian group.

The case is about religious freedom, free speech on campus, freedom of association and self-identification of organizations. It is simple logic, an organization must be able to choose leaders that identify with its goals and its reason for existence.

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 in InterVarsity. Only the leadership is required to subscribe to basic and historic tenets of the Christian faith.

Steps Taken

The attorney for InterVarsity, David French of the Alliance Defense Fund, sent a letter to UW President Kevin Reilly, UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley, Chancellor Erlenbach, and UW legal counsel Patricia Brady on August 4, 2006. A reply from Patricia Brady was sent August 15, 2006, rejecting InterVarsity’s request for recognition. Another letter was sent on September 15, 2006, saying that InterVarsity will file suit if the University does not re-recognize the UW-Superior chapter. The University did not respond to that letter.

The legal precedents

InterVarsity believes that a July 10, 2006, decision by the Seventh 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 the University of Wisconsin campus. The decision requires the university not to discriminate against a religious organization for its religious standards of leadership (or in this case, even membership).

Additional decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have established clear precedent 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 at Rutgers was derecognized. The case was settled by negotiation after the university agreed to protect InterVarsity’s First Amendment rights.