InterVarsity Christian student group denied recognition at California college campuses

Photo: Christian Today

Nearly two dozen California college campuses refuse to acknowledge a prominent, international Christian student group because it mandates that leaders follow the teachings of the Bible.

The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Group's requirements render officer positions closed to non-Christians and gays, and has resulted in California State University's 23 campuses "de-recognising" their local chapters, the Huffington Post reports.

According to California State University (CSU), the student group's leadership policy does not align with the state's nondiscrimination requirements, which mandate membership and leadership in all authorised student groups be open to all students.

"For an organisation to be recognised, they must sign a general nondiscrimination policy," said Mike Uhlencamp, director of public affairs for the CSU system. "We have engaged with (InterVarsity) for the better part of a year and informed them they would have to sign a general nondiscrimination statement. They have not."

The InterVarsity Fellowship has 860 chapters in the United States, and has been active in the United States since 1947. The evangelical Christian group has been challenged on more than 40 college campuses, but CSU – with its 447,000 students – is the largest college to ban the group. Rollins College, Tufts University, and Vanderbilt University, have also challenged the group.

The controversy is rooted in a 2010 Supreme Court decision that found that a public college could deny a religious student organisation authorisation with an "all-comers" policy if its religious beliefs are viewed as discriminatory.

InterVarsity countered by referring to its policy, which says membership is open to all. However, leaders must assert its "doctrinal basis", which affirms belief in "the entire trustworthiness" of the Bible.

Some universities have rephrased their student organisation registration guidelines to allow InterVarsity chapters to remain on campus. Ohio State University rewrote its guidelines to read: "A student organisation formed to foster or affirm the sincerely held religious beliefs of its members may adopt eligibility criteria for its Student Officers that are consistent with those beliefs."

Conversely, some faith-based student groups have signed their university's nondiscrimination policies where mandated, including traditional Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim groups. The largest Jewish student organisation, Hillel, reported that some of their local chapters have elected non-Jews to some offices.

InterVaristy spokesperson Greg Jao said last month that the CSU ruling would result in local chapters being denied use of on-campus meeting rooms, and loss of access to and participation in official school functions. Jao estimated the annual cost of those losses to be approximately $20,000 per chapter.

He also stated that changing the organisation's Christian leadership policy would threaten its foundation.

"We don't believe we can affirm a policy that forces us to compromise Gospel faith and Christian integrity without undermining our commitment to help students become real world changers, not just world accommodators," Jao said.

However, Uhlencamp insisted that the impact of CSU's decision on InterVarsity would be much less severe. "We are not disbanding them, they have not been removed from any of our campuses," he stated.

"They are just not an officially recognised student organisation. They will still have access to meeting rooms, they just will not receive as steep a discount."

Uhlencamp emphasised that the school's policy is mandated by state law, and dates back to 1972.