Hearing today on reconciling religous freedom and tolerance

By March 22, 2013

USA (MNN) — When campus officials use nondiscrimination policies to discriminate against religious organizations, there's a problem with the policy. The scope of that problem was the focus of a hearing today in Washington, D.C.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff and students submitted statements to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about incidents where universities have attempted to restrict the religious liberties of student groups in the name of nondiscrimination. These decisions have affected thousands of Christian students across the country.

Their statements joined those of several other campus ministries who have also been affected by the application of non-discrimination policies. The information will serve as background information for the panels as they discuss the legal ramifications of issues like religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity.

The Civil Rights Commission briefing focused on reconciling nondiscrimination policies with religious liberties. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's National Field Director Greg Jao says, "We are hopeful that this investigation by the Civil Rights Commission will result in more colleges and universities being willing to resolve perceived conflicts between nondiscrimination policies and our country's strong heritage of religious freedom."

InterVarsity staff first encountered the issue a decade ago when Harvard and Rutgers attempted to limit Intervarsity's ministry on campus because of the organization's requirement that student leaders affirm its doctrinal statement.

Since then, more campuses have pressed InterVarsity and other campus ministries on the use of religious criteria to select student leaders since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case CLS v. Martinez.

Jao pointed out that discrimination is part of the culture, noting that fraternities and sororities are allowed to be selective based on gender, and athletic teams can discriminate based on gender and able-bodied status, yet InterVarsity and other religious organizations are treated differently.

Those conversations have led to some universities amending their nondiscrimination policies to permit religious student groups to use religious criteria in leadership selection in most cases–such as at Harvard and Rutgers, and more recently at Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, Florida, Texas, and Tufts.

However, some schools will not allow any exceptions to their nondiscrimination policy, at least for religious organizations, i.e. Vanderbilt University and Rollins College in Florida.

InterVarsity has been in ongoing conversations with schools trying to answer the question: how do we preserve religious liberty and create a tolerant environment on campus at the same time? The findings of the Commission may create some guidelines.

In the meantime, Jao asks, "Would you pray that InterVarsity staff and students are able, with both grace and truth–as Jesus did, to engage college administrators?"

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