The Student Association Senate at the State University of New York at Buffalo voted on Sunday to revoke official recognition for the campus chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
The decision leaves the group in limbo. Without recognition from the student government, InterVarsity cannot apply for student fee funding or have access to some other benefits. But it may still be able to operate on campus as a member of the Campus Ministries Association.
InterVarsity leaders declined to comment on the situation until they figure out exactly how the decision will affect their operations.
The student senate put InterVarsity on suspension at the end of last year after it learned one of its former leaders felt pressured to resign from his position over his views on homosexuality. Steven Jackson, the group's former treasurer and a member of the senate, at first asked the student association to allow InterVarsity to continue operating. But after last night's meeting, Jackson said he thought the senate's decision was long overdue.
"The IVCF broke the law by discriminating in the way that they did," Jackson told The Spectrum, the school's student newspaper. "And while I initially supported them remaining a campus organization, the fact that they continued going on with a practice that they were told was against the law, against the rules, and said we're not going to change anything, that was just disrespectful to the word of the law and the people who they have been discriminating against."
In February, the senate demanded InterVarsity modify its constitution, which includes a clause requiring leaders to sign a statement of faith. The student senators said such requirements violated the school's nondiscrimination policy.
When InterVarsity failed to submit a new constitution, the senate extended the deadline until April 4, even though the group's leaders said they had no intention of changing their leadership requirements.
InterVarsity leaders previously said they hoped to work out a solution with school administrators but affirmed their willingness to go to court over the issue, as a last resort.
Challenges to the freedom of Christian groups to operate on campus are becoming more common. At Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., 12 Christian organizations are protesting a new policy that requires religious student groups to open their leadership positions to all members, regardless of whether they share the group's core beliefs. The groups hope to persuade the school's trustees to force administrators to back down but are planning to move off campus next semester if lobbying efforts don't succeed.
Because SUNY Buffalo is a state school, it must abide by U.S. Supreme Court rulings protecting the rights of religious groups to meet and exercise their beliefs. In a 2010 ruling in CLS v. Martinez, the court upheld a state school's right to establish an "all-comers" policy that would force all groups to be open, both in membership and leadership, to all students. But the court declined to say whether the school involved in the case had applied its "all-comers" policy fairly, leading some administrators to think they could create exemptions and still remain within the law. In some instances, as at Vanderbilt, school officials have granted exemptions for fraternities and sororities, which discriminate based on gender, but not for religious groups. Last month, the Supreme Court declined to take a case challenging such an exemption, bolstering the position of administrators who claim exceptions to an "all-comers" policy do not violate the First Amendment.