Christian student group out in cold at Michigan University

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Wayne State University boots religious group because it asks its leaders to share its faith

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Melinda Skea

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Christian student group is fighting for its right to continue serving at the same campus it has been on for over 75 years. In InterVarsity Christian Fellowship v. Wayne State University, an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship student group, represented by Becket, sued Michigan-based Wayne State University after school officials stripped them of official recognition just because the group requires its leaders to affirm their faith. Wayne State has over 400 student groups that contribute to its intellectual and cultural diversity, all of which are free to select leaders who embrace their missions—except, suddenly, one Christian student group.

InterVarsity welcomes all students to its meetings and to join as members. It requires only that its leaders believe in and live out its faith. Yet in 2017, Wayne State rejected the group’s constitution, derecognized InterVarsity, and cancelled all of InterVarsity reserved meetings. Wayne State’s reason?  After 75 years, Wayne State decided that InterVarsity’s religious leadership requirements violated school policy. Meanwhile Wayne State actively violates its own policy in many of its programs, and allows dozens of other larger student groups do the same.

“Don’t Michigan universities have bigger problems than who leads Bible studies?” said Lori Windham, Senior Legal Counsel at Becket, which represents InterVarsity. “Wayne State should focus on educating students instead of playing belief police.”

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Wayne State is one of the oldest InterVarsity chapters in the country, and has held weekly Bible studies, meetings, and organized service opportunities on campus for over 75 years. For instance, in 2009 the group sponsored a series of campus events that raised awareness regarding human trafficking. And the group regularly hosts discussions of important issues, like the intersection between faith, race, and social justice.

Now InterVarsity is given second-class status, forced to rent tables like outside vendors if it wants to host discussions or reach out to new students. It can no longer reserve meeting rooms for free like other student groups.

“Asking religious leaders to practice what they preach isn’t discrimination, it’s integrity,” said Windham. “Targeting one Christian group that’s served the campus for over 75 years, while giving itself and dozens of larger groups a pass is truly discriminatory.” 

 For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more).

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