A Quick Note about Cal State’s “De-recognition of InterVarsity”

I’ve been trying to make sense of the various “de-recognition of InterVarsity” stories, especially the one this weekend involving Cal State.

I see critics of the decision asking “would they require the vegetarian group to allow a carnivore to run for president?” Others have suggested that these decisions were knee-jerk reaction to run off Christians who hold to their beliefs.

Yesterday’s story in Religion News Service was one of the better stories, partly because it included comments from Mike Uhlenkamp, CSU director of public affairs. He was given the permission to share his position alongside the concerns raised by InterVarsity leaders. But even that story didn’t seem to get deep enough.

So I decided to just write Mr. Uhlenkamp and ask him some questions. I wanted to know if the ban applied to all student groups and what explained the timing. He wrote back about five minutes later.

He confirmed that “the cheerleader group cannot require members or leaders to be cheerleaders“. He also sent me a copy of the CSU executive order (1068) from December 2011 that was CSU’s response to the Hastings School of Law Supreme Court Decision from 2010. The changes were to have been implemented by the 2012-2013 school year, so it seems student groups were given an extra year to comply.

Here is the heart of the executive order issued by Charles Reed, CSU Chancellor:

“No campus shall recognize any fraternity, sorority, living group, honor society, or other student organization that discriminates on the basis of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, color, age, gender, marital status, citizenship, sexual orientation, or disability. The prohibition on membership policies that discriminate on the basis of gender does not apply to social fraternities or sororities or other university living groups. Student organizations shall deliver to the vice president for student affairs or his/her designee a statement signed by the president or similar officer of the local student organization attesting that the organization has no rules or policies that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, color, age, gender, marital status, citizenship, sexual orientation, or disability. This statement shall be renewed annually.

No campus shall recognize any fraternity, sorority, living group, honor society, or other student organization unless its membership and leadership are open to all currently enrolled students at that campus, except that a social fraternity or sorority or other university living group may impose a gender limitation as permitted by Title 5, California Code of Regulations, Section 41500. Student organizations may require applicants for leadership positions to have been members for a specified period of time, and may require officers to compete for those positions in elections of the membership (emphasis mine).

The only exemption that is allowed is for single-sex living arrangements which may maintain those limitations. The bold-faced sentence seems to provide a safeguard for groups against external parties who would show up the night of an election to attempt to disrupt the organization.

There are reasons why Christians may be unhappy that InterVarsity cannot continue its past practice of operating as a student organization instead of a campus ministry group. But on the surface, it sure looks like the CSU system is following the demands of California State Law as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

8 thoughts on “A Quick Note about Cal State’s “De-recognition of InterVarsity”

  1. While I am loathe to cry “discrimination,” this does seem to be a stupid policy. If it complies with the court decision, then the court decision is stupid. It’s not just religious discrimination, though I imagine this is the group hit hardest. This seems like a weird free market experiment, only instead of with economics, it’s with ideas. The “invisible hand” will keep the Christian organizations from becoming something else entirely.

    1. Chris: I’m certainly not advocating for the policy at CSU or other places. I was trying to connect the dots to see if I could understand what the schools are trying to do. Since so many of the articles in the Christian press and blogosphere were expressing outrage and sharing significant quotes from IV representatives, I thought it was worth seeing what I could learn. The whole “all comers” idea in the Hastings decision seems a broad attempt at non-discrimination. I think it likely reflects a litigation phobia on the part of non-religious schools.

      1. Yeah, I understand. I appreciate the bit of investigation, because I had been leery to jump on board with the people crying foul, but I think this is a genuinely dumb policy.

  2. Thanks for this clarification. I can imagine that the schools in California fear a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation or a related group without a more specific safeguard. But evangelicals sure do love the security of a good doctrinal statement. 😉

    1. Ed, I discussed this on my Facebook page after the Vanderbilt story in CT. It’s interesting to play out the scenario of what would happen when the dedicated atheist ran for president of IV. What would happen if he won? Would the group just stop meeting? Merge with the local LGBT advocacy group? I think that the members would be pushed into communicating their faith position more clearly that doctrinal adherence alone would require, which might have a huge impact on the atheist president.

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