ASU group sues school over policy
State universities require signing of
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 6, 2004 12:00 AM
Arizona State University strives for a campus free of
prejudice, requiring its organized student groups to
sign a statement pledging not to discriminate.
But now an unregistered student group is suing ASU,
alleging that its inability to ban homosexuals and
non-Christians from the group infringes on the
members' religious freedom.
The Christian Legal Society, which has seven members,
filed a federal lawsuit Nov. 17 demanding recognition
as a registered group, which would give it access to
organizational and financial support from ASU. This
has been denied to the group because of its refusal to
sign the non-discrimination pledge. advertisement
ASU attorney Nancy Tribbensee said the Arizona Board
of Regents established the non-discrimination policy,
which applies to all three state universities, to
protect individuals against bias on the basis of "age,
ethnicity, gender, disability, color, national origin,
race, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status."
Every other student group, including those that might
have religious grounds for restricting membership,
have complied with the policy, she said.
The society argues that First Amendment freedoms of
association and free exercise of religion mean it
should not have to comply. The society specifically
wants to require its members to sign a standard
statement of Christian faith, which would exclude
homosexuals and non-Christian students from joining
the organization, although a spokesman says such
students are welcome to attend society meetings.
If the society prevails, it is likely that many other
religious organizations - most of them Christian but
also those representing Judaism, Islam and other
religions - would seek similar waivers.
Tribbensee, who has been with the university since
1989, said she could remember no other group seeking
such an exemption. Nor could she pinpoint any case in
which a student complained about discrimination by a
M. Casey Mattox, a society attorney based in
Washington, D.C., said no gays or non-Christians at
ASU have challenged the group's requirements.
"But universities are beginning to create and apply
these policies," he said. "It is becoming a real
problem now. Organizations are actually being brought
up on charges, defunded and kicked off campus."
That's what happened at Ohio State University, where
school officials moved to revoke that Christian Legal
Society's status as a registered organization after
another group complained. The society sued and won a
settlement allowing it to be recognized with an
exemption from the university's non-discrimination
The society has filed similar actions at at least six
other schools. Some of them, including Ohio State and
the University of Iowa, have granted exemptions to
non-discrimination policies. At least one other, Penn
State University, is the subject of an active lawsuit.
None of the cases has been resolved in court yet, but
Tribbensee said a settlement that would exempt the
society from the regents' policies "is not our current
Registered student organizations at ASU are entitled
to a variety of benefits, including funding through
the Associated Students of Arizona State University.
Such benefits are a cause for concern, said ASU law
professor Paul Bender, an expert on civil rights.
"I would think ASU has the right to push
non-discrimination policies," he said, "while CLS is
entitled to organize and pray, but not to receive
support from the state."
He said the society is not a church as commonly
recognized, but a student organization.
"Once you allow them to discriminate, you open the way
to exactly the kind of discrimination that is odious
in this country," he said.
Representatives of other religious-based student
organizations say the university's non-discrimination
policies have not been a problem, even though many of
them find homosexuality, especially, to be a problem.
Some of them say they want to reach out to
non-Christians and homosexuals, who they believe to be
living outside church beliefs.
"Everybody is welcome," said the Rev. Fred Lucci, a
chaplain at All Saints Catholic Newman Center at ASU.
"When someone comes here, they can expect to learn
what Catholic teaching is." They will be told that
they may form their own consciences on various issues,
and ultimately they might not stay, he said.
Many such groups restrict leadership to students who
are members of a religion or sign a statement of
faith, but that has never become an issue, Tribbensee
"When there are no complaints," she said, "we presume
things are going well."