‘Change of position wasn’t a change of heart’
InterVarsity is making “second-class citizens” out of Wayne State University students by not letting non-Christians run for leadership posts in the Christian campus organization, according to the public university.
It’s trying to get a federal judge in Michigan to dismiss the chapter’s First Amendment lawsuit for derecognizing the club, which has maintained a campus presence for more than 75 years.
Though the university reversed its decision and reinstated the Christian group after it sued, the administration is now claiming it’s not required to “subsidize” discrimination against its students by recognizing InterVarsity.
The Christian club responded last week, telling the judge that Wayne State’s motion to dismiss is “once again heavy on the invective and light on the law.”
“Wayne State allows 90 student groups to make their own rules for leaders—everyone from fraternities to the Quidditch Club,” according to Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket religious-liberty law firm, which is representing the students. They only want the same treatment as everyone else, she said.
The university’s motion shows that its “change of position wasn’t a change of heart,” a Becket spokesperson told The College Fix, referring to its reinstatement of the club.
Instead, it is “forcing InterVarsity to rely on fickle administrative grace instead of equal treatment as a member of the Wayne State community,” he wrote in an email: “That’s unfair and unconstitutional.”
Not forced to help InterVarsity treat non-Christians like ‘second-class citizens’
The bad blood started in October when the administration ordered the club to change its constitution to stop requiring potential leaders to share its faith.
InterVarsity claimed it had never faced any known objection to these requirements, that other campus clubs were free to choose only leaders who share the same mission, and that Wayne State was misapplying its own nondiscrimination policy.
The club lost its campus recognition and paid more than $2,700 to reserve campus space so it could continue to hold Bible studies, a privilege granted freely to recognized groups. The club also lost its visibility on a Wayne State student organization website.
Wayne State’s motion last month, and InterVarsity’s replies, shed any pretense of mutual respect between the parties.
The university denied the club’s application to renew its status because its Christian-only rules for leaders “plainly violated the non-discrimination policy,” the university told the judge.
It reinstated the club “in a good faith effort to resolve this dispute” after InterVarsity sued, reimbursing its expenses for the “brief period of its de-recognition. … Wayne State assumed this case would simply go away.”
The club’s rationale for continuing litigation is “rich in irony … that Wayne State engaged in discrimination by refusing to subsidize Plaintiffs in discriminating,” the university said. InterVarsity’s brief ignored the “leading and controlling precedent” on this subject, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez:
The Supreme Court has made clear, however, that universities need not provide privileges to student groups that seek to discriminate on the basis of religion or otherwise in violation of school policy. …
Wayne State merely chose not to subsidize—by way of access to support for organization events, free event space, and other privileges—Plaintiffs’ decision to make second-class citizens of students who refuse to accept their religious pledge.
The university scoffed at the student group’s legal claims, which are “not claims at all, but affirmative defenses … the irony is conspicuous,” because Wayne State wants to resolve this dispute voluntarily but InterVarsity is pushing “baseless and unnecessary litigation.”
Its nondiscrimination policy simply “provides a bright-line rule against discriminatory conduct” and “does nothing to advance or inhibit religion,” the motion says: InterVarsity can carry Wayne State’s “imprimatur” as long as it stops engaging in “religious discrimination.”
Wayne State struck a more conciliatory note in a statement emailed to The Fix following a request for comment on InterVarsity’s latest filing.
“InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is currently on our campus as a recognized student group, and it remains welcome here,” it read. “Since InterVarsity was reinstated to Wayne State’s campus in March with its charter intact, we assumed there was no longer an issue.”
The school says it has no intention to challenge the club, but was forced to file its motion because Becket continued litigation. Citing the Becket release, it said: “To be clear, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is welcome on our campus and we have no intention of challenging its status.”
‘Masterpiece’ decision is bad news for Wayne State
InterVarsity mocked the university’s motion as “long on sound and fury and short on application of the law to the facts,” noting that Wayne State does not have the “all comers” policy that the Supreme Court upheld in Martinez.
The university “has authorized dozens of exemptions to its anti-discrimination policy (and exempts itself as well)” and made clear it is “openly hostile” to InterVarsity by claiming it makes non-Christians “second-class citizens,” the club wrote in its legal response to Wayne State’s motion.
The university has also not claimed “mootness,” InterVarsity said: That’s because it wants to “maintain its current selectively-enforced patchwork policy and the ability to penalize InterVarsity again at a moment’s notice” when its “temporary grace” has lapsed: “That would stand the First Amendment on its head.”
In another filing, a reply defending its motion for a permanent injunction, the club said Wayne State couldn’t “explain the inexplicable: its decision to penalize InterVarsity’s religious leadership decisions while ignoring the leadership and membership decisions of dozens of other groups.”
The university is asking for the court’s blessing to “interfere with InterVarsity’s religious leadership selection in unconstitutional ways,” InterVarsity wrote.
Citing the Supreme Court’s just-issued Masterpiece ruling in favor of the Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, the club said the school as a public institution “cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices”:
Wayne State’s anti-religious value judgment is explicit. Wayne State insists on maintaining categorical exemptions for large, popular secular groups so that those groups can select both leaders and members based on sex [fraternities and sororities]. But Wayne State then insists that it cannot possibly allow religious groups to select religious leaders because, just maybe, one day a religious group (unlike InterVarsity) might “hold as an article of religious faith that their leaders must be … male.”
Becket has argued that the university was being hypocritical by exempting secular organizations that follow the same leadership requirements.
“[T]he University recognizes more than 400 student groups, and allows them to select their leaders. The Secular Student Alliance can require leaders to be secularists, Students for Life can require its members to be pro-life, and more than a dozen fraternities and sororities can limit membership to one sex,” it said.
By treating only a religious group differently, Wayne State is not only violating the First Amendment but “its own policy against religious discrimination.”
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