Gullixson: CSU’s message: Those of faith need not apply
Every now and then a government institution does something that is so remarkably stupid and prejudiced one can’t resist calling it out for what it is.
Sonoma State University, on behalf of all the California State University system, gets top honors this month.
What for? Because for all the problems facing America’s colleges - from sexual assaults to binge drinking to morbid student indebtedness - Sonoma State has nothing better to do than kick two of the nation’s largest Christian organizations - InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Athletes in Action - off campus. Other religious groups, those for Catholic, Jewish and Baha’i students, may soon be on the chopping block as well.
No, these students didn’t streak past Dean Wormer’s house during a Founder’s Day fundraiser or drive a stolen Cadillac through the quad after a night of excessive beer pong. America’s campuses appear to be tolerant enough of those pranks.
These groups simply had the temerity to stand by their convictions when pressured to disavow them by a new rule change, Executive Order 1068, a directive that, albeit possibly noble in intent, is discriminatory in execution.
These organizations, while open to everyone, believe that their leaders should stand for something, know something and believe in something. As a result, they’ve been shunned. They are no longer recognized as official university clubs, despite being, in the case of InterVarsity, a part of Sonoma State for more than 50 years. Furthermore, they now have to pay the going rate if they want to use the same facilities on campus they’ve been using. The price: $1,000 a week.
It’s a cost that, by all appearances, is punitive in its own right. (For the same amount, one can rent the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel garden for a Sunday wedding for two hours for up to 500 guests. Food not included.) But the 190-member InterVarsity, somehow, is paying it, at least for now.
Granted, this is not SSU’s directive. This order was handed down from the chancellor’s office a few years ago and is only now being put into effect at CSU campuses across the state. At last count, more than 19 InterVarsity chapters have been sent packing.
But here’s the twist that would make even George Orwell cringe for its dystopian logic. All of this is happening under the guise of making the CSU system more tolerant and less discriminatory.
For a long time, the CSU has had a rule that “no campus shall recognize any fraternity, sorority, living group, honor society, or other student organization that discriminates on the basis of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, color, age, gender, marital status, citizenship, sexual orientation, or disability.” In 2006, it was made clear that this applied to clubs on campus as well. No problem. These religious groups welcome all students, no strings attached.
But then came Executive Order 1068, authorized by then-CSU Chancellor Charles Reed in late 2011, which made a small but significant change. It requires groups not only to be open to anyone being a member, they must be open to anyone being the leader.
This pertains to all 160 organizations and clubs on campus, except fraternities and sororities, which are exempted because of gender. (A number of public universities across the nation have similar policies, but they offer exemptions to religious groups as well as to Greek organizations. InterVarsity, based on 616 U.S. campuses, says it has only encountered this problem at CSU.)
Yes, that means that the members of the Black Scholars United have to be open to having a president who is Latino. The Biology Club must be willing to be led by an art major. And the Sex Geekdom Club of Sonoma State - a group of “sex geeks” devoted to “having geeky conversations about sex” - must be open to electing someone who is, well, boring and celibate, I guess.
But what’s the purpose of all this? Forcing these clubs to take such a position doesn’t promote tolerance. It just promotes nonsense.
And it promotes deceit. This essentially forces these groups to lie, promising they would be willing to elect anyone who walks into their meeting as chief. Nobody believes that. But they have to claim it. If they don’t, it could cost them, possibly $1,000 a week.
So why not lie? What’s the harm? For groups such as the Hockey Club, the Beer Enthusiasts club and the Comedy Improv Club, there really is none.
The only groups that would be harmed are those to which beliefs and creeds, at least by their leaders, are not just one more thing, they are everything. That would be religious groups. Without faith, they have nothing. Thus in order to claim to be a religious club these groups have to renounce their religion.
So they don’t. And instead of being praised for standing by their convictions - in an age when so many stand for nothing and fall for anything - they’re being evicted for them. If that’s not discrimination, what is?
Given that all of this is apparently being done in blind allegiance to a twisted interpretation of the establishment clause of the Constitution, where does it end?
If a student wants to start a bible study in her dormitory, will she, one day, be asked to pay to use the dorm lounge for such meetings? After all, that’s a taxpayer-subsidized sofa. What if her group chooses to meet on the lawn? That’s state-funded sod, too.
I was never a member of InterVarsity. To be honest, when I was in college, much to my shame, I was more likely to have made fun of the students who attended groups like that than befriend them. But it’s now to our collective shame if we razz them through directives like Executive Order 1068 and don’t come to their defense.
Moves like this stigmatizes those of religious faith and create a culture of insensitivity to personal religious preferences. It’s a culture that manifests itself in incidents like the one in June 2013 when a Sonoma State student helping at an orientation event was required to remove a cross necklace on the grounds that it might offend someone.
The university later apologized and acknowledged the supervisor erred. But the damage was done. The university lost more than the moral high ground. It lost the student. And now, unless CSU can agree on a religious exemption to this directive, it appears ready to lose more.