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University of New Hampshire accused of ‘open hostility’ toward religious freedom club

Legal demand letter asks campus administrators to intervene

University of New Hampshire administrators need to step in and correct the “open hostility” toward Christian and conservative students by January 3, a demand letter from a legal nonprofit stated.

First Liberty Institute sent the demand letter to law school Dean Shane Cooper after UNH’s Student Bar Association refused to recognize the Free Exercise Coalition, a student organization devoted to protecting religious freedom on campuses, despite the club’s adherence to all the school’s criteria for official club membership.

The legal nonprofit shared a copy of the letter with The College Fix.

First Liberty accused the SBA of acting as an “inquisitor” when examining the club’s application, instead of providing its “routine, administrative approval.” The Christian Legal Society, approved two months prior, faced similar issues in obtaining official recognition, First Liberty wrote, showing a pattern of bias.

The media team for UNH law school said on December 23 it would provide comments to The Fix but has yet to respond.

The SBA “viewed with suspicion” the Free Exercise Coalition’s “mission.” The SBA also “fomented public discussion that labeled the group as bigoted, subversive, oppressive, and a general ‘problem’ for UNH,” First Liberty wrote in its letter.

“Further, this shocking, knives-out inquisition of the Free Exercise Coalition’s religious beliefs by the SBA led the Free Exercise Coalition’s faculty advisor to withdraw,” according to the letter.

“Students at America’s universities are entitled [under the First Amendment] to express their beliefs on campus, as well as by associating with students that share those beliefs,” First Liberty wrote.

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The university administration, including the dean, must uphold these rights so that all students have the freedom to “express their beliefs on campus.” The legal group holds Cooper accountable because he did not stop SBA nor inform them of the problems of their actions. As a result, by his silence he approved SBA’s actions, First Liberty argued.

First Liberty made clear that by not stopping or at least “educating” the members of SBA the university and dean “fail[ed] the promise of the First Amendment by promoting viewpoints it favors and regulating speech it disfavors.”

Dean Cooper must accept several requests to make the situation right.

These demands included immediate recognition of the Free Exercise Coalition with Cooper taking the place as faculty advisor of the coalition “since UNH Law’s hostility drove off the Free Exercise Coalition’s faculty advisor.”

In addition, First Liberty outlined steps UNH Law must take to ensure SBA is investigated and receives training on “student expression conducted by the Foundation [for] Individual Rights and Expression.” The student body should also be notified of these efforts to improve free speech.

First Liberty also informed Dean Cooper that the Free Exercise Coalition has been “advised” of their right to “seek redress” in federal court for “civil and constitutional rights” violations.

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About the Author
Gigi De La Torre -- Franciscan University of Steubenville