- The Washington Times - Monday, October 25, 2021

An evangelical Christian group sued the University of Houston-Clear Lake on Monday, claiming that the school violated its religious freedom in refusing to grant it “recognized” status as a campus organization.

Attorneys for the group Ratio Christi note that it has won settlements against schools in Georgia and Colorado over similar rejections over the past three years.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, alleges that the public university discriminated against Ratio Christi by refusing it status as a “recognized student organization” eligible to reserve space on campus, invite outside speakers or receive monies from the activities fund into which all students pay, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the group’s public interest attorneys.

A spokesman for the University of Houston-Clear Lake did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit alleges that the university denied Ratio Christi recognized status because the group requires its leaders “to agree with its values and mission.” The evangelical group is dedicated to strengthening the faith of college students.

Although other groups’ membership requirements apparently were accepted without issue, “the university rejected the application and revoked its invitation to the student organization fair because Ratio Christi‘s constitution requires its leaders to be Christians — not members of another faith or of no faith,” the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said.

In a statement, ADF legal counsel Caleb Dalton said the school “singled out Ratio Christi and its members because of their Christian beliefs.”

In the lawsuit, the ADF points out that the Clear Lake campus’ Vietnamese student association, its association of veteran students and its international student association each are permitted to limit membership and leadership positions while holding the “recognized student organization” status.

Similarly, the school allows sports clubs to restrict membership based on gender, as well as permitting sororities and fraternities to have specific membership requirements.

The filing says the Clear Lake campus’ treatment of Ratio Christi‘s application “is particularly egregious” because the discrimination centers on the group’s “religious beliefs,” which are protected by the First Amendment.

The ADF won a similar case in 2019 at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, which had declined to grant Ratio Christi official status. Following a federal lawsuit, the school settled, paying more than $20,500 in damages and attorneys’ fees. The university also revised its policies to allow a student club to require its leadership to hold beliefs consistent with its mission, the ADF said.

In 2018, the ADF settled with Kennesaw State University in Georgia over that school’s restricting a Ratio Christi display to a difficult-to-access “speech zone.” The settlement eliminated free speech restrictions on the campus, the ADF said.

The lawsuit is Ratio Christi at the University of Houston-Clear Lake v. Khator. It names University of Houston System Chancellor Renu Khator as the first defendant, along with University of Houston-Clear Lake interim President Richard Walker and six student affairs officials at the 94-year-old school.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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