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The bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to allow religious and political student groups to ignore campus non-discrimination policies.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Legislators introduced more than 2,000 bills in Richmond this year, so a few of them are bound to slip by without careful scrutiny. Virginians, especially those with ties to the state’s colleges and universities, should not let SB 1074 be one of them. Sen. Mark Obenshain, who seeks the Republican nomination for attorney general this year, wants to force Virginians to subsidize discrimination on campus.
His bill would declare that religious and political student organizations may set their own rules about leadership, membership and doctrine and still be eligible for public funds. That might sound fine, a good exercise of the First Amendment’s speech, religion and assembly protections. It’s not that simple.
The bill is a thinly veiled attempt to allow some student groups to ignore campus non-discrimination policies. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schools may enforce such policies, so long as the rules apply equally to all sanctioned student groups.
Obenshain’s bill would carve out exceptions for religious and political groups, requiring public colleges and universities to ignore flagrant discrimination when providing public support and official recognition.
A Muslim student group could declare that non-Muslims may not join. A Christian group could refuse membership to gays and not allow women to be leaders. A Democratic group could reject anyone who does not commit to support party candidates. A Libertarian group could require an oath to Ayn Rand. Schools would have to endorse them anyway and allow them to proclaim themselves official student groups bearing the name of the institution.
Students already may organize and meet under whatever discriminatory dogma they wish. When they come asking for public funding and recognition, however, they should meet certain standards that uphold the ideals of open debate and free access to resources by the entire campus community. Groups that discriminate undermine the core mission of higher education and deserve no support from Virginians.
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