A lawsuit has been filed against the University of Florida, accusing officials there of discriminating against a student organization because its members must be Christian men.
“By denying BYX’s application for recognition as a Registered Student Organization and the rights, benefits, and privileges thereto on the basis of BYX’s requirement that its members be male college students, while extending Registered Student Organization status to other student organizations, including Christian fraternities and sororities, without regard to whether they select members on the basis of sex, Defendants have denied … equal protection of the laws guaranteed … by the 14th Amendment,” the lawsuit said.
“University officials refuse to recognize BYX as a registered student group because the group limits its membership to Christian men, but the school does not apply a similar standard to other student organizations,” the groups said.
“Christian student groups cannot be singled out for discrimination. The right to associate with people of like mind and interest applies to all student groups on a public university campus,” said Timothy J. Tracey, litigation counsel for the Center for Law & Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society.
“The University of Florida deprives BYX of this right when it forces the group to abandon its identity as a Christian men’s organization,” he said.
The fraternity, which also calls itself “Brothers Under Christ,” seeks to teach male college students what it means to be Christian men. The university refused to offer the group recognition, alleging the group’s requirement that members be Christian men is “discrimination.”
“The university recognizes the Women’s Chorale and Men’s Ice Hockey even though they are single-sex organizations,” said Tracey. “Why then is the university telling this fraternity it cannot limit its membership to Christian men?”
Without that official recognition, BYX is denied critical benefits provided other student groups, such as access to meeting space and the ability to advertise and recruit members on campus, the law firms said.
The action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Gainesville Division.
It notes that the fraternity cannot affiliate with an organization of secular fraternities, which would provide that it be given recognition, because it requires members to be Christian. The only other option is to organize as an “off-campus” student group, but those are denied a host of opportunities, the complaint said.
“Off-campus student groups are specifically denied the ability to host events or to reserve meeting space on campus, and the ability to seek student government funding,” the complaint said.
Other benefits for “recognized” groups include office space, a student organization mailbox, filing and storage space, access to tables and bulletin boards, computer use, access to listservs, and a student organization e-mail and website.
“BYX is caught in a conundrum. UF refuses to recognize BYX as a Registered Student Organization because the group discriminates on the basis of sex. UF cannot recognize BYX as a Social Fraternity because BYX is unable to affiliate with the [organization of fraternities] due to the group’s religious criteria for members,” the complaint said.
“As a Christian fraternity, BYX is locked out of the UF campus. The only way UF will recognize BYX is if it chooses to give up its identity as a men’s organization or if it abandons its religious criteria for members,” the complaint said.
“Many registered organizations are similarly situated to BYX in that they limit membership and/or leadership on the basis of sex. For example, The Sedoctaves is a women’s a cappella singing group. … Progressive Black Men is a professional service organization for African-American men … UF also recognizes numerous single-sex club sports teams, such as Florida’s Elite Ultimate Lades (a women’s ultimate Frisbee club), Men’s Lacrosse, and Men’s Ice Hockey,” the complaint noted.
Officials with the two legal groups said they just recently completed the same argument with the University of Georgia.
There school officials claimed religious discrimination. However, they quickly agreed to recognize BYX as a registered student organization and provide the same benefits as other organizations have.
Their letter, dated just days after that complaint had been filed, said Georgia’s Division of Student Affairs “will process the paperwork to immediately register Beta Upsilon Chi as a student organization at the University of Georgia.
“As we also discussed, the university will be reviewing its student organization policies in the near future and all of your concerns will be thoroughly considered,” the Georgia letter said.