Dispatches > The Buzz

Brought to 'heel

Christian campus group nearly booted from UNC, but Tarheel chancellor relents-after lawsuit threat

Issue: "30 years of destruction," Jan. 18, 2003

As classes were resuming after winter break, University of North Carolina chancellor James Moeser announced that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship can keep on operating as an officially recognized student organization with access to facilities and student activity funds. His decision reversed a demand by a student union administrator who had ordered IVCF in a letter to change its charter by Jan. 31 or lose its official recognition. The IVCF charter specifies that while membership is open to all, the group's leaders must be Christians.

Like many universities and colleges, UNC's nondiscrimination policy requires student groups to be open to "full participation" by all students regardless of race, gender, or religious belief. When IVCF balked at changing its charter, the administrator issued the letter. Officials said that of 17 student groups, including 11 religious ones, that had problems with their charters, only IVCF failed to change.

Chancellor Moeser intervened after IVCF and Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) threatened to sue. He said: "On balance, given that the general membership in [IVCF] is open to all students, I believe that in this matter, preserving freedom of expression is the more crucial consideration."

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IVCF has been active on the UNC campus for 52 years, operating under the same charter. Mr. Moeser cited it for "valuable contributions to student life and campus leadership ... in its many years here." He said he would work to "preserve" that relationship. IVCF has three undergraduate chapters and one graduate chapter at UNC with a total of about 325 student members. It receives about $1,000 a year from the student fund.

The UNC administrator acted after an official at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., inquired how UNC was handling the matter of religion-oriented student groups and nondiscrimination requirements.

Homosexual activists have taken aim at evangelical groups on campuses across the country, accusing them of discrimination and pressuring administrators to compel compliance. IVCF claims more than 34,000 members on some 560 campuses. In the last six months, seven schools have sought to force it to change its charter, a spokesman told WORLD.

Rutgers officials informed the IVCF group on its campus last year it no longer was an official student organization because it refused to comply with anti-discrimination rules. The group began meeting off campus last fall. Talks failed to change the administrators' position. This month IVCF filed a federal suit against the school, and FIRE supplied a supporting brief.

A similar case at Harvard remains unresolved.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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