CARBONDALE, Ill., July 11, 2006—Yesterday, a federal appeals court ordered Southern Illinois University’s (SIU’s) School of Law to grant a Christian student group the same rights as secular student groups on its campus. The court ordered a preliminary injunction requiring the school to recognize the group and sent the case back to the lower court for trial. Last year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed an amicus brief in the case, urging the appeals court to reach this very result.
“This is a crucial victory for the principles of religious liberty and freedom of association on campus,” stated FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “This ruling should send a clear message to public colleges and universities that the law will not permit them to continue to use the language of ‘nondiscrimination’ to restrict the fundamental freedoms of religious students.”
SIU’s chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) filed suit after law school Dean Peter Alexander revoked the group’s official recognition, asserting that the group’s sexual morality requirements violated SIU’s nondiscrimination policy. CLS policies ban voting members and leaders from engaging in or approving of premarital sex, adultery, or homosexual sex, although any person may attend the group’s meetings and activities.
“CLS’s belief requirements are hardly unique for a Christian organization,” said Lukianoff. “Indeed, to take away CLS’s ability to have such rules is to take away its right to credibly express its religious beliefs.”
FIRE’s amicus brief to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals argued that there is a crucial difference between status (such as race or national origin) and belief, and that belief-based expressive organizations like CLS “must be permitted to make belief-based choices when choosing their leaders and voting members.” The court also noted this critical distinction.
SIU’s chapter of CLS was represented in court by attorneys from the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund. The case now returns to the district court for trial, but in the meantime, CLS will continue to enjoy the benefits of official recognition under the court’s order.
“As FIRE has said many times, a Muslim organization has a right to be Muslim, a Jewish organization has a right to be Jewish, and a Christian organization has a right to be Christian. It is not tolerance but intolerance to forbid such voluntary associations,” concluded Lukianoff.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve religious liberty at Southern Illinois University and on campuses across America can be viewed at www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws/religiousliberty.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org