Maranatha suit unfounded

Maranatha Christian Fellowship filed a lawsuit this week to challenge the University’s policy requiring University-registered student groups to sign an Equal Opportunities Statement. Maranatha wants to receive the benefits of a student group, such as access to funding and other amenities, but reserve the right to discriminate in determining who can join or become a leader in the organization. We believe the University policy does not obstruct Maranatha’s First Amendment rights – it simply guarantees that the University itself will not be discriminating by proxy. Selection criteria such as Maranatha’s are contrary to the educational values of the University.

Among the reasons Maranatha took this issue to trial is its strong desire to exclude people who have extramarital sex or commit other sinful acts. They insist their group is best served by only having homogenous members. We believe Maranatha has the right to discriminate for any reason it chooses, but then the University must not support it.

If Maranatha wins this trial, and we do not expect it will, we can imagine a very different University: groups only for virgins, groups only for Jews, groups only for white business students, groups only for heterosexuals. In effect, this would completely negate the powerful educational potential of groups. We might never again see gay and straight people collaborating on projects or getting to know one another. It would be a tragedy for students, the University and the community, which benefits from educational diversity.

The University is a public institution funded by public monies. This is both an official role and an explicit mission of the University. The definition of public includes “open to common or general use, enjoyment.”

In everyday practice, it might be that many groups are already rather homogenous. People seem to like people similar to themselves. Christians, for example, might legitimately benefit from and enjoy the support of other Christians. But this kind of grouping together is completely different from the systematic exclusion of certain people.

Even if the University did not have this Equal Opportunity Statement requirement, it is unlikely there would be much or any difference within existing student groups. Other than Maranatha, we have not heard an outcry from other University student groups on this issue. Furthermore, if this anti-discrimination form poses such a big problem for Christians in Maranatha, why do we not see other Christian students complaining? Rather, it seems like the other Christian and religious student groups tend to focus on being inclusive, rather than exclusive, in pursuit of their mission.

Maranatha has been on campus for 22 years and, therefore, must have enjoyed some degree of success in the past. The group’s vice president said they never challenged the rule before because they were intimidated. It is still unclear what, exactly, intimidated them.