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Hot on Campus | October 2, 2012

Yale may not recognize Christian fraternity

Religious freedom

BYX membership requirements may violate school's nondiscrimination policy


A newly approved Christian fraternity at Yale University may be denied official recognition and student group funding because it plans to restrict membership to men who believe in Jesus.

Just days after the leaders of Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX) announced the Yale chapter's formation, the student newspaper reported that the group "will have to change its membership rules if it intends to comply with Yale's anti-discrimination policies."

Yale's policy bans all groups affiliated with the university from discrimination based on "sex, race, color, religion, age, disability, or national or ethnic origin," although groups like Yale Law Women exclude men. Similarly, BYX - the largest Christian fraternity in the country - requires its brothers to be practicing Christians.

John Meesek, Yale's associate dean for student organizations and physical resources, told the student-run Yale Daily News (YDN) that "exclusivity on the basis of religion is against Yale's anti-discrimination policies," but declined to comment on the BYX chapter.

While Yale representatives have declined to comment to any news source about the future of BYX's registration, Yale Communications Officer Karen Peart told WORLD on Campus that the dean's office is working to resolve the matter and will communicate the resolution once it's made.

BYX Executive Director Jason Hoyt said that the fraternity would work with the university as far as possible without compromising the group's right to exercise its freedom of religion. But making sure all members share the same beliefs is central to the fraternity. The group's purpose is to build unity among men who share the common bond of a relationship with Jesus. Allowing members who don't share that common bond would make fulfilling their purpose impossible, Hoyt said.

"Every fraternity has an ideal candidate that they're looking for in their pledges," Hoyt said. "Part of ours is that the candidate wants the same things that we want, and what we want is to develop our relationship with Christ."

While BYX restricts membership to Christians, it does not exclude non-Christians from the group's social events. At Yale, BYX members hope to strengthen the Christian community, but also provide a social alternative to traditional Greek activities for anyone who is interested. Since the chapter's initiation ceremony on Aug. 27, its eight members have partnered with other Christian groups on campus to host two non-alcoholic social events. The first attracted 30 attendees and the second close to 60, said sophomore Victor Hicks, the BYX chapter president.

Hicks founded the chapter at Yale because he believed some freshmen felt pressured to drink and sacrifice their morals to have a good time on the weekends and fit in with a group of friends. He hopes BYX will be a place where students can enjoy a different kind of social activity than what other Greek chapters offer. But he wants to maintain good relationships with other fraternity heads.

"I want to make sure people know that we don't think we're better than anyone else," Hicks said. "We are just different people, each choosing to live different lifestyles."

Many fraternities at Yale avoid official recognition by the university so that they can maintain autonomy and face fewer regulations. But BYX sought registration to build a relationship with the school, and so far, the chapter has received a lot of positive feedback on campus, Hicks said.

When national representatives of BYX met with administrators to register the new chapter, they submitted their documentation in full, including the fraternity's membership requirements. None of the administrators brought up any problems at the time, Hoyt said.

BYX has faced opposition to its membership requirements at other universities, including the University of Georgia, the University of Missouri and the University of Florida. All of those public colleges altered their anti-discrimination policies to resolve the conflict. The paragraph University of Florida administrators added to its nondiscrimination policy offers clear protection for all religious groups:

"A student organization whose primary purpose is religious will not be denied registration as a Registered Student Organization on the ground that it limits membership or leadership positions to students who share the religious beliefs of the organization."

Although many public schools offer exemptions to nondiscrimination policies for religious groups--protections religious liberty experts say the U.S. Constitution guarantees--several private colleges have taken a different approach. Last year, administrators at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., opted to end its religious organization exemption. The change forced all religious groups to agree to allow students who do not share their beliefs to apply for leadership positions. More than a dozen groups, including the school's BYX chapter, chose to operate as unofficial groups rather than comply.

If the BYX chapter at Yale lasts through the fall semester, the group plans to participate in its first Rush Week in the spring, alongside Yale's other 11 fraternities. With the new members they may gain, the chapter hopes to establish a permanent off-campus location next year.

"BYX doesn't want controversy," Hoyt said. "We just want to exist and fulfill our purpose as a Christian social fraternity."