Virginia Passes Law Protecting Religious Pluralism on Campus

March 27, 2013

Good news from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Governor Bob McDonnell has signed a new law that champions the American tradition of pluralism by safeguarding the freedom of association of Virginia’s public college and university students. Virginia has only become the 2nd state to pass such a law since the Supreme Court of the United States’ disappointing ruling in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.

The new law states:

§ 23-9.2:12. Student organizations; rights and recognition.

To the extent allowed by state and federal law:

1. A religious or political student organization may determine that ordering the organization’s internal affairs, selecting the organization’s leaders and members, defining the organization’s doctrines, and resolving the organization’s disputes are in furtherance of the organization’s religious or political mission and that only persons committed to that mission should conduct such activities; and

2. No public institution of higher education that has granted recognition of and access to any student organization or group shall discriminate against any such student organization or group that exercises its rights pursuant to subdivision 1.

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Freedom of Association bills pass Virginia assembly

Both houses of the Virginia General Assembly have passed “Freedom of Association”  bills that allow religious and political groups at state colleges to restrict membership to individuals who are “committed” to the organization’s mission. Opponents of the legislation said the bills are thinly veiled attempts to let subsidized campus groups discriminate against gay students.

“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,” Mark Obenshain, a state senator from Harrisonburg, told the Roanoke Times.

The idea of freedom of association was supported in a US Supreme Court case in 1995, Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston. But the case did not involve state funding of the groups in question, and the Supreme Court also said that Boston gays had a right to stage their own separate parade.