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Updated August 26, 2004

UNC stands firm on nondiscrimination position in Christian fraternity case

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has taken a firm position defending its nondiscrimination policy and responsibility to student groups in a case involving Alpha Iota Omega, a religious fraternity.

Chancellor James Moeser affirmed that position Aug. 25 in a statement responding to a lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defense Fund.

"This University strongly encourages students to nurture their moral, spiritual and religious lives," Chancellor Moeser said. "We have nearly 5,000 students who belong to our 42 recognized religious student groups, the overwhelming majority of them being Christian. We are a public institution, and we cannot discriminate. That’s the law. And that’s why we are very comfortable with the position that we’ve taken on this issue.

"Membership in recognized student groups must be open to all students on a nondiscriminatory basis," Moeser said. "We think our position strikes the right balance between First Amendment rights to freedom of association and the rights afforded by the Fourteenth Amendment and the North Carolina Constitution to freedom from discrimination."

Moeser first outlined the University’s position on Alpha Iota Omega in an Aug. 12 letter responding to allegations by The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Copies of the University’s response and correspondence from FIRE are posted below.

Other new developments include a statement of support approved this week by the Campus Ministers’ Association endorsing the University’s current practices in working with religious student organizations. The statement is signed by clergy working with students from eight denominations. They say none of these groups "has experienced discrimination based on our particular form of religious expression by the University. Not accidentally, none of our groups have within their by-laws exclusive clauses that require a particular religious affiliation for membership."

Carolina has 595 recognized student organizations on campus that adhere to the University’s nondiscrimination policies. Alpha Iota Omega is not banned from campus. Because of its refusal to comply with the University’s nondiscrimination policy, however, it is not eligible for privileges available to recognized student groups, including priority access to University facilities for meetings and funding from the University’s Student Congress.

Related Links:

University reiterates non-discrimination position in Christian fraternity case (August 25, 2004)

Alliance Defense Fund release (August 25, 2004)

Chancellor James Moeser's response to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (August 12, 2004)

Letter from Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (August 16, 2004)

Letter from Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (July 23, 2004)

Statement from Campus Ministers' Association (August 23, 2004)

Student ministry leader affirms University position (August 12, 2004)

A Sampling of Media Coverage:

Equal access for every student (Opinion-Editorial Column)
The News & Observer

The University of North Carolina -- like many public institutions -- applies a nondiscrimination policy to campus-endorsed student organizations. The Black Student Movement must be open to white students.

Worth the battle (Editorial)
The Daily Tar Heel

The Alliance Defense Fund, in announcing its lawsuit against UNC, brought a fight to the heart of campus Wednesday from which our University cannot afford to back down.

A Christian Controversy (Editorial)
The Winston-Salem Journal (August 16, 2004)

The broken record plays on at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with critics once again charging that the school's administration is anti-Christian....UNC-Chapel Hill is neither anti-Christian nor pro-Christian, just as it's not against any religion or for any religion. It's just a public university trying to find its way through the shrill culture wars. Moeser made the right decision.

UNC's new religious flap is different (Editorial)
The Chapel Hill Herald (August 14, 2004)

The case of UNC's Alpha Iota Omega fraternity is not the same as the case of the university's InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The differences are instructive....While the constitution does allow people to join associations on the basis of shared beliefs, it doesn't require the university to recognize them or give them money. The university is not saying the fraternity can't exist -- it is simply noting that it does not have to support an organization that is not open to the entire student body....In this case, the university is not saying an organization's leadership must be open to all, just its membership....That would seem to be a reasonable policy.

Student group refuses to sign policy
The Herald-Sun (Durham) (August 13, 2004)

UNC has declined to officially recognize a Christian student organization because the group has refused to sign a nondiscrimination policy....In a three-page response to the rights organization's inquiry, (Chancellor James) Moeser said the university has acted appropriately. Even if the student group complied with the university policy, its members would still be able to honor "their mission of providing leadership and outreach to the campus Greek community through evangelism and mentorship," Moeser wrote....William Marshall, a UNC law professor and constitutional scholar, said Thursday he doesn't believe the university has violated the rights of the students in the fraternity...."It doesn't mean that any of these organizations have to change their basic tenets," Marshall said. "It just means the group has to be open to the entire campus community. There's no interference with faith or religious beliefs in any way."

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