Friday, March 6, 2009

Religious student orgs get exemption from university nondiscrimination rules

Law students from the University of Iowa have begun a petition encouraging the administration to restrict funding to a campus organization that bars gays or anyone who supports "advocacy of a sexually immoral" lifestyle. My first thought was, "It makes me sad that another Big Ten school is funding a student organization like that." My second thought was, "I'm so glad that doesn't happen at Ohio State." I learned in the process of forming comBIne that all student groups must include a nondiscrimination clause in their constitution before they are approved as an official student organization. While I was investigating whether or not the University of Iowa has a similar policy, however, I discovered that OSU actually has an exemption to the constitutional nondiscrimination policy:

A student organization formed to foster or affirm the sincerely held religious beliefs of its members may adopt a nondiscrimination statement that is consistent with those beliefs.

What?! I can't believe I didn't notice this or think about its implications earlier! How come a religious organization gets a special get-out-of-bigot-jail-free card? What makes religious belief any different from or more valid than strongly held political or social beliefs? Why should any other organizations have to follow the nondiscrimination clause inclusion policy if religious organizations can get the easy out?

People have the right to believe what they want. But a university is not a free-for-all speech zone. Nor should it be. A university is not a public forum. It is not a place where anything goes. It is a place that you must apply to in order to gain the privilege of attending. It is a place that is supposed to foster intellectual development. Of course we should encourage the discussion (and examination!) of all points of view, but it's perfectly and entirely within a university's rights to say that something is unacceptable, and to create rules and policies that it believes foster the best environment for learning.

I'm not anti-religion. To the contrary. I'm a Jew. I attend religious services most weeks and on holidays. Though my definition of God may be different than some, the fact remains that I believe in God. Finally, I was not born into this faith - I converted. I came to it based on belief.

And so I say as a person of faith and as a Buckeye student leader: To permit a student organization's discrimination simply based on religious belief is wholly unacceptable. Pun not intended. These organizations receive university funding. Why should they get a break from the rules that the rest of us have to follow?

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