Tide rises for students’ freedom

University of Alabama is latest to protect student religious freedom
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Attorney sound bite:  Matt Sharp

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — An Alliance Defending Freedom legal letter has prompted the University of Alabama to update a policy to ensure that faith-based student groups will not be forced to allow opponents of their religious views into the membership or leadership of those groups. The university expressed its willingness to revise its guidelines “to reflect what has in fact been the practice” for many years at the university.

“In America, students have the freedom to gather together around shared beliefs and to make membership and leadership decisions in keeping with that freedom,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Litigation Staff Matt Sharp. “We commend the University of Alabama for promptly updating its policy to protect that freedom in keeping with how the university says it has long operated.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom letter clarified that, “Prohibiting religious student organizations from taking student’s religious beliefs into account when selecting their members and leaders, while allowing fraternities and sororities to discriminate on a broad host of grounds, violates the First Amendment.” The letter also explained that the U.S. Supreme Court has established that the government is prevented from “interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own leaders.”

The University of Alabama’s policy on membership in student organizations states that leadership and voting membership positions must be open “to all students of The University…without regard to race, religion, sex, disability, or national origin, except in cases of designated fraternal organizations.” In reply to the Alliance Defending Freedom letter, the university said it will amend the policy with the following sentence: “However, religious student groups will not be denied registration solely because they limit membership or leadership positions to students who share the same religious beliefs.”

The University of Alabama joins UCLA, Virginia Tech, and several other universities that have recently made policy changes in response to Alliance Defending Freedom letters and its nationwide effort to change unconstitutional policies at public universities.

Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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