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Friday, February 11, 2011

News releases:  2/11/2011  |  2/9/2011

Fla. A&M reinstates Christian student group after receiving ADF letter

University says it will review policies, ‘make changes as appropriate’
Friday, February 11, 2011

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida A&M University notified attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Friday that it has reinstated a Christian student group it de-recognized in January and will review university policies for appropriate changes. ADF sent a letter to the school Tuesday after officials revoked the student group’s active status based on a constitutionally problematic rule that prohibits clubs from meeting, holding events, and hosting functions unless a university-appointed advisor is present at all times.

“Christian student clubs shouldn’t be kicked off public university campuses because of policies that impose severe restrictions on the right of students to speak or even meet on campus,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “The university is doing the right thing here. We will continue to monitor the situation to make sure that Florida A&M follows through with changes to its policy that currently bans student meetings and speech unless a government employee is present the entire time the meeting or speech occurs.”

In a letter received by ADF Friday, legal counsel for Florida A&M said that “the student organization’s status has been returned to active. In light of the concerns raised in your letter, the University is also reviewing its policies and prepared to make changes as appropriate.”

In January, Florida A&M officials placed the student group “Commissioned 2 Love” on “inactive status” because the club’s advisor was not present at all of the group’s gatherings. The Florida A&M Student Handbook states that student organization advisors are assigned by the university, not chosen by the clubs themselves, and must “attend and remain present for the duration of all organizational meetings, official functions, and sponsored activities.”

In a letter to the university, ADF explained that the requirement is unconstitutional because it bans student meetings and speech when a university employee is not present and gives university employees complete and unchecked discretion over whether a student group’s meeting or speech will occur. The letter also explained that the university’s policies violate the Constitution because they “compel student organizations to associate with government employees who they may not want to associate with, and who in fact may be adverse to the group’s mission and expression. Even worse, the students are not given the authority to select their own advisors, but rather the Associate Vice President for Student Life appoints advisors for student organizations.”

“This means that the university can appoint an atheist to oversee a Christian group, a meat-eater to advise a vegetarian group, or a Republican to provide direction to the College Democrats,” Tedesco explained. “The policy is both unconstitutional and absurd, and we trust that the university will make appropriate changes to make things right.”
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.