Christian students who have tried for three years to get official status for their campus apologetics group at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs have filed a lawsuit claiming their religious freedom rights have been violated.
UCCS' chapter of the Ratio Christi apologetics alliance filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday accusing the university administration of violating the free exercise clause of the First Amendment by refusing to grant the group recognition because the group requires that members and leaders share the organization's Christian beliefs.
The group allows students of any and no faiths to attend their events and any student can become a member of Ratio Christi so long as they support the organization's purpose and beliefs, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, the nonprofit legal group representing the student group.
According to the law group, the university's Ratio Christi has even had some Hindus and atheists attend their meeting to learn more about Christ.
The lawsuit argues that the school's student organization policies and practices are "neither neutral nor generally applicable because they represent a system of individualized assessment."
It adds that the policies and practices are unfair because they "grant university officials unbridled discretion when evaluating requests from student organization for 'registered' or 'recognized' status (and the accompanying resources), and thus, they establish a system of individualized assessments."
The lawsuit asserts that other student groups at the university are allowed to "require that their officers share the organization's beliefs."
In fact, the lawsuit points out, there is already a Christian student group recognized by the university that requires its leaders to faithfully attend church. That group's leadership agreement even requires leaders to "challenge unbelievers to be open to the belief that the Bible is true and Jesus is who He says He is."
Additionally, another Christian group on campus requires officers to agree to a statement of faith.
The lawsuit notes that fraternities are allowed to have only men and sororities are allowed to have only women, while the university's Trans Student Union is allowed to require members and leaders to "believe that transgender people are the gender they say they are." According to the lawsuit, the Trans Student Union threatens to revoke membership or officer roles to anyone who engages in "transphobic comments or behavior."
"Like any other student group at a public university, religious student organizations should be free to choose their leaders without the government meddling," ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham said in a statement. "It would be absurd for the university to require the vegan student group to appoint a meat-lover as its president. Likewise, the University of Colorado shouldn't force Christian students to let atheists or other non-Christians to lead their Bible studies in order to become a registered club."
Not having official status with the university prevents Ratio Christi from accessing the benefits and funding that campus student groups are eligible to receive. According to ADF, lacking official status keeps the group from holding events on campus and limits the group's ability to recruit new members.
Because of that, the group is in danger of dying off, says ADF.
"Despite claiming inclusiveness and diversity as its core values, the University of Colorado is failing to foster real diversity of thought and is, instead, discriminating against a Christian group based on its beliefs," ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, said in a statement. "Today's university students will be tomorrow's legislators, judges, university presidents, and voters, but at the University of Colorado, students are learning the wrong message: that government can dictate who can lead certain student groups. It's vital that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students."
The lawsuit filed against the University of Colorado comes as the University of Iowa has faced similar lawsuits for kicking Christian groups off campus for requiring that their leaders be Christian.
In August, the University of Iowa reinstated dozens campus groups that were derecognized over the summer because of leadership policies the school deemed to be discriminatory. The move to derecognize the students groups came as the school was sued by the group Business Leaders in Christ after that group was booted off campus last year.
A court order forced the school to temporarily reinstate Business Leaders in Christ.
But the move to reinstate the campus groups came after a lawsuit was filed by InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship in August.
A jury trial is scheduled for March 2019 in the Business Leaders in Christ case.
In March, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship filed a lawsuit against Wayne State University in Michigan after its local chapter was re-recognized by the university. The school later reinstated the group when faced with the legal pressure.