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Domestic News | February 25, 2013

Virginia bans campus 'all-comers' policies

Domestic News

Ban protects campus groups' right to only select members who agree with their mission

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (Associated Press/Photo by Steve Helber)

Virginia lawmakers voted earlier this week to give college campus groups the right to restrict membership to students who agree with their mission.

The bill is designed to prevent state universities from enacting "all-comers" policies, which undermine the ability of religious and political organizations to form around a specific set of beliefs.

"It's pretty simple: A Democratic club shouldn't have to accept a Republican as a member and members of a religious group should be able to expect that their leadership will share the group's core commitments," state Sen. Mark Obenshain, the bill's sponsor, told The Roanoke Times. "It's perfectly reasonable for an organization to expect its members to agree with, and be good examples of, the organization's mission."

Critics called the bill unnecessary, saying no group had been threatened by a "hostile takeover." But in recent years, colleges have used "all-comers" policies to prevent Christian groups from refusing to accept leaders who approve of homosexuality.

The so-called nondiscrimination policies got a lot of national attention last year after Vanderbilt University, a private college in Nashville, Tenn., adopted one. Fifteen Christian groups refused to affirm the policy and lost their access to campus facilities and student-fee funding.

In an effort to force the school to reverse course, the Tennessee legislature adopted a measure similar to Virginia's, except it included any private school taking taxpayer money. Less than a week after the legislature passed the measure, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, vetoed it.

Tennessee lawmakers resurrected the bill earlier this month. Ohio approved an "all-comers" ban last year.

Virginia's measure now awaits Gov. Bob McDonnell's signature. In an op-ed for The Daily Caller, Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), urged McDonnell to sign it into law. Doing so would protect the longstanding tradition of American political and religious freedom ensconced in the principle of pluralism.

"Part of the greatness of our country is the fact that religious groups at war with each other overseas manage to share streets or even buildings in America," he wrote. "Pluralism is religious toleration as Americans have traditionally practiced it, and it is the reason that no country can compare to the United States in its peaceful multiplicity of religious groups."