The University of Michigan is accused of kicking an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter off campus because the group requires its leaders to be Christians – an apparent violation of the university’s non-discrimination policy.
Greg Jao, InterVarsity’s national field director, told Fox News the Asian chapter of the group was directed to either revise its constitution – or else be forced off campus.
“The university is sending the message that religious voices are suspect and should be marginalized,” Jao said. “I think it sends the message that the university does not understand the nature of religious beliefs and the convictions of religious students.”
A University of Michigan spokesperson released a statement saying that all registered student organizations must agree to “sign the university’s standard non-discrimination agreement” and “submit their constitution for review.”
“At this point in the current school year, Asian InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has not completed this process,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson did not elaborate on the conflict with InterVarsity.
Last December, members of the group were summoned before university officials who told them there was an issue with the section of the club constitution related to leadership.
In order for students to be InterVarsity leaders they must sign a statement of faith. But the university said that requirement violated their non-discrimination policy.
Sara Chang, an InterVarsity staff member at the University of Michigan, said they were given the option of submitting a revised constitution.
Instead, Chang and the other students decided to stand firm in their faith.
“For us, there’s no other option than to hold to the tenets of our faith,” she told Fox News. “We want to model a lifestyle of integrity. Holding the Bible as the inspired, divine word of God and seeing the commands for us to choose leaders who have a vibrant faith in Jesus – is obviously something very important that we want to continue to uphold.”
As a result of their decision, the university de-recognized the group – forcing them to relocate off campus.
InterVarsity has 10 chapters at Michigan and he suspects the others will soon be called upon to make similar changes in their constitutions.
“The sad place that we’ve arrived at is that certain campuses in pursuit of tolerance and diversity – are now saying they will use those standards to discriminate and marginalize viewpoints they disagree with,” he said.
“I can’t imagine the Muslim Student Association saying you don’t have to be a Muslim to help lead our group,” he said. “I think the university’s decision will impact any religious group that’s being honest about their leadership criteria.”
Last year 14 Christian groups left Vanderbilt University rather than comply with demands to change their bylaws to put them in compliance with the non-discrimination policy. One of those groups was InterVaristy Fellowship.
“It really had a chilling effect on students and our work,” Jao told Fox News.
He said Vanderbilt’s relationship with Christian students is disturbing.
“They prohibited all other registered student organizations from co-sponsoring events with our groups,” he said. “It’s pretty punitive. We’re a little bit of a pariah.”
He said Christians at Vandy “feel disenfranchised, distinctly unwelcome.”
“We feel that the religious voice on campus is being marginalized,” he said.
And that’s what the hope doesn’t happen at Michigan.
“More and more universities are asking the question – ‘in our pursuit for a tolerant and diverse campus, how far do we need to go,’” he said.
Jao said they plan to follow the university’s appeals process – but the club has already been banned from using space.
Nevertheless, the students continue to meet in an alternative space to worship – hoping the university will reconsider.
“It is sad,” said Chang, who is a Michigan graduate. “But I do have a lot of hope.”
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