- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) — Can a Christian student organization require that its officers be Christian? A lawsuit may answer this question at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey.

Rutgers has banned the InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship from using campus facilities and has stripped the group of university funding because the IVMECF, whose membership is open to all, reserves the right to choose leaders who agree with its religious mission.

The matter has come to the attention of FIRE — the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — a Philadelphia-based campus watchdog group "devoted to free speech, individual liberty, religious freedom, the rights of conscience, legal equality, due process, and academic freedom." With the support of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Phoenix-based public interest law organization, FIRE Legal Network attorney David A. French filed a lawsuit against Rutgers Monday in the Federal District Court of New Jersey for violating the First Amendment rights of the IVMECF students.

On Thursday Rutgers Associate Director of Communications Sandra E. Lanman declined immediate comment, saying the university had not yet been served with the suit. In September Rutgers Director of Student Involvement Lawanda D. Irving officially "derecognized" the IVMECF on the grounds that requiring a group's leaders to agree with its beliefs constituted impermissible discrimination.

On Tuesday the chancellor of another university reversed a similar ruling.

On Dec. 10, Jonathan E. Curtis, assistant director for Student Activities and Organizations at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, informed the leader of the school's InterVarsity Christian Fellowship that the university had reviewed the group's constitution and objected to the provision that officers must subscribe to Christian doctrine. (IVCF membership also is open to all.) Curtis instructed the student to "modify the wording of your charter" by Jan. 31 "or I will have no choice but to revoke your University recognition." He issued similar instructions to at least two other Christian organizations at UNC. This prompted Alan Charles Kors, the University of Pennsylvania History professor who co-founded FIRE, to say: "It is prohibited at this public university for a Christian organization to be Christian."

Seeking UNC comment Thursday, United Press International was directed to a news release on the school's Web site dated Dec. 31 from Chancellor James Moesser. "I have asked our staff to allow IVCF to continue to operate as an official recognized student organization," Moesser announced. FIRE Program Officer Emmett M. Hogan welcomed the decision.

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