After an activist group publicized the case, an engineering school backed off from its refusal to recognize a Christian student group that barred voting members from practicing acts forbidden by the Bible, such as homosexual behavior.
The student government of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, or MSOE, decided to grant full recognition to the ReJOYce in Jesus Campus Fellowship student group April 18.
The decision came after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, intervened upon learning the student government had denied RJCF full recognition because of an article in the group’s bylaws requiring members to live in accordance with the group’s faith.
The school’s student government approved the Christian group by removing it from “temporary status” along with other campus groups.
David French, president of FIRE, said, “Although this victory for religious freedom on campus is welcome news, it is telling that MSOE chose to correct its mistake in such an indirect way.”
RJCF encounted trouble last fall when it submitted its original constitution and bylaws to apply for re-recognition after a year of inactivity.
In January, MSOE’s Student Government Association sent RJCF a letter stating it would not recognize the group because it believed RJCF’s “Standards of Personal Conduct” discriminated on the basis of “sexual preference.”
The SGA justified its decision by stating that to allow such “discrimination” would violate the student government’s duty to uphold state and university policies.
The SGA granted RJCF “temporary status” until March 28 so that RJCF could revise its “Standards of Personal Conduct,” which require that voting members not commit acts “expressly forbidden in Scripture,” including “homosexual behavior.”
After the SGA’s decision, RJCF contacted FIRE for assistance.
FIRE’s March 23 letter to MSOE President Hermann Viets contended the SGA’s actions had violated the school’s stated policies supporting religious liberty and freedom of association. He also argued no state or federal law prevents religious organizations from governing themselves according to religious principles.
In late March, the SGA extended RJCF’s temporary status until this fall, but the SGA also suggested RJCF adopt weaker alternative language for its standards of conduct that would allow for differing interpretations of the Bible.
In an e-mail to RJCF’s advisor, a student official explained that without such changes, it would be “very difficult” for RJCF to attain full recognition.
When Viets did not respond to FIRE’s concerns, the group took the case public April 13.
Five days later, according to MSOE’s Ingenium newspaper, the SGA voted to grant full recognition to all student organizations that were given “temporary status.”
RJCF, along with the Muslim Students Association and the Cigar and Pipe Social Club, became “full-fledged organizations with no funding restrictions or any other probationary restrictions.”
French said FIRE hopes the Milwaukee school “will take steps to ensure that such infringements on students’ rights never happen again.”
“We are committed to fighting on behalf of students at MSOE and across the country when a college or university reneges on its promises of student freedom,” he said.