Closing The Public Purse: Christian Campus Ministry ‘De-Recognized’ By Calif. Public Colleges Over Discriminatory Policies

At the end of the day, InterVarsity is just another fundamentalist group that wants to receive taxpayer money without any strings. It doesn’t work that way. If they want public money, they’re going to have to play by the rules. If they want to discriminate, then they can’t get public support.

A prominent evangelical Christian campus ministry has lost its official recognition at 23 public colleges in California thanks to the organization’s discriminatory policies.

Religion News Service (RNS) reported that California State University, which has nearly two-dozen campuses, decided to “de-recognize” InterVarsity Christian Fellowship because it will not pledge to make its chapters open to everyone.

The organization believes in the “entire trustworthiness and authority of the Bible." This likely means the group was unwilling to accept non-Christian and gay students, a violation of both California state law, which requires recognized student groups to be open to all, and a school policy from 1972.

“For an organization to be recognized, they must sign a general nondiscrimination policy,” Mike Uhlencamp, a spokesman for the California State University system, told RNS. “We have engaged with (InterVarsity) for the better part of a year and informed them they would have to sign a general nondiscrimination statement. They have not.”

As a result, InterVarsity said it will lose about $20,000 per chapter at the CSU schools – but it’s not going away. The Christian Post reported the group will reach out to students through “new tools,” such as social media, since it can’t have an established campus presence anymore.

CSU noted that InterVarsity will not, however, be banned from campus.

“We are not disbanding them, they have not been removed from any of our campuses,” Uhlencamp said. “They are just not an officially recognized student organization. They will still have access to meeting rooms, they just will not receive as steep a discount.”

InterVarsity, which has been active at colleges since 1938 and has 949 chapters at 616 campuses, is not thrilled with being de-recognized.

“While we applaud inclusivity, we believe that faith-based communities like ours can only be led by people who clearly affirm historic Christian doctrine,” InterVarsity said in a statement. “The policy affects 23 chapters within the California State University system. The policy exempts sororities and fraternities from gender discrimination; we believe there should be a similar provision for creedal communities.”

The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t agree. In 2010, the high court said public colleges can decide not to recognize religious student organizations, even those with an “all-comers” policy, if a particular religious group subscribes to discriminatory beliefs. InterVarsity does claim to be open to everyone, but its strict adherence to biblical doctrine calls that policy into question.

In the wake of that case, 40 college campuses have since sought to pull official recognition from InterVarsity chapters. RNS said those include Vanderbilt University, Rollins College and Tufts University, all of which are private.

But some public schools have actually altered their anti-discrimination policies to protect InterVarsity. At Ohio State University, the student organizations guidelines were revised to allow discrimination by “a student organization formed to foster or affirm the sincerely held religious beliefs of its members…”  

As it always does, the Religious Right will argue that InterVarsity is being punished just for being Christian and that “religious freedom” is under attack. But the thing is, other faith groups that operate on campuses seem to have no trouble with non-discrimination agreements. RNS said Jewish, Catholic, mainline Protestant and Muslim groups have all signed non-discrimination policies at various schools. Hillel, which is the largest Jewish student organization in the United States, even says some of its chapters have non-Jewish officers, RNS reported.

At the end of the day, InterVarsity is just another fundamentalist group that wants to receive taxpayer money without any strings. It doesn’t work that way. If they want public money, they’re going to have to play by the rules. If they want to discriminate, then they can’t get public support.

So the question here is not whether InterVarsity is getting a raw deal. The real question is: Why did it take so long for the CSU system to stop supporting the group given its refusal to include everyone?