A Christian student group at Wayne State University in Detroit requires group leaders to be Christians. All student groups can set requirements for leadership – even the school’s Quidditch Club, which is based on a fictional game from the Harry Potter books.
But Wayne State called the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s religious requirements discriminatory. The administration kicked the group off campus in 2018. Intervarsity filed a lawsuit. Wayne State reinstated the group but continued to claim that its requirements were discriminatory, and the students could face expulsion.
InterVarsity reminded the administration that the Secular Student Alliance could still require their leaders to be secularists. Why was the school focusing on a Christian group? Still feeling threatened, InterVarsity continued with its lawsuit.
Becket Law, which represents Intervarsity, recently announced that a federal court has sided with the students. The court ruled that Wayne State discriminated against InterVarsity when it kicked the group off campus. An excerpt:
The university never had a problem with their policy until 2017 when, during a routine club membership reapplication process, Wayne State told InterVarsity that asking its leaders to share its faith was “discriminatory” and deregistered the group.
But the Court said Wayne State had things backward—it was the school that had discriminated against the small student group: “Disparate and discriminatory treatment of religious groups due to their religious character violates the Free Exercise Clause.” In fact, Wayne State’s attempt to control a religious group’s leadership selection was “categorically barred by the Constitution.” And the law on this point was so clear that the Court held that Wayne State officials are personally liable for their actions.
Becket Law said the ruling “safeguards InterVarsity and sends a clear message that accommodation, not discrimination, is the best policy.”