Christian students at a Utah college said they were told by administrators that their homecoming decorations were “in poor taste” because they included religious messages and symbols, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court.
The Solid Rock Christian Club has also accused Snow College of infringing on free speech rights by reducing the group to a “second tier” status on campus. That means the group would no longer be able to reserve campus rooms, advertise events on campus or receive funding from student fees.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the club by the Alliance Defending Freedom.
“Colleges are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, not centers of censorship,” said Travis Barham, of the Alliance Defending Freedom. “America’s colleges and universities should recognize that the First Amendment protects the freedom of all students to gather with those of like mind and to express their ideas, including religious students and religious ideas.
“By refusing to treat faith-based student organizations the same as other student groups and by excluding religious speech from homecoming events, Snow College officials have ignored this basic principle,” Barham added. “But we hope they will quickly do the right thing, respect our clients’ freedoms, and eliminate the need for continuing to pursue this lawsuit.”
Alliance Defending Freedom said campus clubs were invited to “Paint the Town,” — decorating the windows of local businesses with the theme: “Then, Now and Forever.”
The Solid Rock club had received permission to paint two windows — one of a privately owned business and the other was a business selected by the school.
The group had already painted one window with a cross and the words: “The cross covers sin then, now and forever.” They were working on a second window when a college official ordered them to stop.
Barham said the students were scolded, threatened and then forced to wash away their display.
Later, college officials removed their first painting, telling students in an e-mail that their Christian message “is in poor taste,” Barham alleged.
After the ADF sent a letter to the college, they received a reply from a Utah state assistant attorney general. The state official said religious views would continue to be prohibited from the homecoming event.”
Among those named in the lawsuit is Scott Wyatt, president of Snow College. He told Fox News that the lawsuit may be the result of a “simple misunderstanding.”
“This is a very small disagreement that we are working through,” Wyatt told Fox News. “I’m very optimistic we will come to a positive solution.”
Wyatt said the college was originally founded by a Christian organization before becoming a state institution. He said 90 percent of the students are Christians.
“Religious clubs are very important on our campus,” he said. “This is not something we are hostile to.”
Wyatt said the Solid Rock Christian Club has a good reputation on campus.
“We value the club,” he said. “They provide a very good service to our students and the students connect with them.”
If that’s the case, why was the club demoted to a second tier status?
According to the college handbook, clubs are not allowed to be affiliated with any commercial or for-profit organization or religious institution, the newspaper reported.
Wyatt said he believed the issue came up during a university audit. The auditor feared the university was violating Utah’s constitution by providing funding to religious groups on campus.
But Wyatt said it was eventually determined they providing space and money to campus religious groups was not a violation. The college president said he suspects that was not communicated to all of the clubs.