A Christian student club is suing Penn State University for rejecting it as a student organization after being told the school already has “too many” Christian clubs.
The university recognizes more than 600 different clubs, ranging from the American Helicopter Society to the Young Americans for Freedom, says the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom, which filed the lawsuit.
But when DiscipleMakers Christian Fellowship applied for registered status in April 2004, a university official charged with reviewing religious student organizations refused to approve the group because there were “too many [Christian] groups anyway and they were beginning to compete.”
Unlike secular school clubs, Penn State requires religious student organizations to undergo a separate review process, the Christian Legal Society says.
A university administrator, the director of the center for ethics and religious affairs, must decide whether or not the club is sufficiently “unique” from existing religious student clubs to warrant registration.
DiscipleMakers’ tried to show how it differed from other student organizations, but Penn State officials insisted the group did not meet the university’s “uniqueness requirement.”
Denial of registered status means the group does not have access to meeting rooms, bulletin boards and student organization funding.
DiscipleMakers also is represented by Pittsburgh attorney Lawrence Paladin and the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund.
The lawyers want the court to rule Penn State is violating the First and 14th Amendment rights of free speech, due process, free association and free exercise of religion.
The school’s constitutionally questionable “uniqueness requirement” deprives Christian student clubs of the status and benefits of an approved club, the advocates say.
“Penn State University is on constitutional quicksand when it tasks a lone college administrator with the responsibility to decide whether one group of Christians has a different message from another,” said Chief Litigation Counsel Steven H. Aden. “The First Amendment ensures that it is citizens, not government bureaucrats, who have the right to make decisions about what they want to say and with whom they want to say it.”
Ironically, Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, a Quaker, who wanted his state to be a Christian utopia. Although Penn and his wife’s “Holy Experiment” of the early 18th century didn’t totally succeed, the Quakers dominated Pennsylvania for 70 years, and many still reside in the state.