Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Both houses of the General Assembly have passed bills that allow religious and political groups at state colleges to restrict membership to individuals who are “committed” to the organization’s mission.
The Senate passed its version of the legislation (Senate Bill 1074) Tuesday by a 22-18 vote. A similar bill (House Bill 1617) cleared the House of Delegates last week by a vote of 80-19.
The legislation is designed to ensure that political groups don’t have to accept members from another party and religious groups can “expect that their leadership will share the group’s core commitments,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, sponsor of the Senate bill.
The legislation would prevent public colleges from discriminating against political and religious organizations that adopt restrictive membership policies.
Opponents of the legislation said the bills are thinly veiled attempts to let subsidized campus groups discriminate against gay students. Obenshain said his bill “will protect free association and academic freedom on campus.”
“It’s pretty simple: A Democratic club shouldn’t have to accept a Republican as a member and members of a religious group should be able to expect that their leadership will share the group’s core commitments,” Obenshain said.