A Christian student organization in Texas will once again be allowed to register on campus and choose leaders who agree with its values and mission.
The University of Houston-Clear Lake had refused to allow Ratio Christi to register as an official student organization because it requires its leaders to affirm its Christian values and mission. Represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, Ratio Christi filed a federal discrimination lawsuit on First Amendment grounds. In its complaint, Ratio Christi pointed out that other groups, such as the Vietnamese Student Association and the Student Veterans Association, restrict leadership and membership to those with shared experiences and characteristics.
The university chose to settle the lawsuit, ADF reported in a statement. As part of a settlement, the university agreed to a policy change that allows Ratio Christi and other campus groups to choose leaders who agree with their values and mission. In light of the settlement, ADF attorneys filed a voluntary dismissal of the case Feb. 15.
“All students deserve to be treated fairly and without discrimination based on their faith, and I commend the University of Houston-Clear Lake general counsel’s office for taking swift action to ensure Ratio Christi is given equal opportunity among its peer groups,” said ADF legal counsel Caleb Dalton. “The university is supposed to be a free market of ideas. To meet that ideal, public universities must vigilantly protect the constitutional rights of students to freely speak and gather according to their religious beliefs.”
Victory for all student organizations
As part of the settlement, the university added the following language to its Student Organization Handbook: “A student organization may limit Officers to those members who subscribe to the tenets of that organization.”
In addition, the university added transparent guidelines for how a student group should gain approval to become a registered student organization, and an appeal process in the event of a denial. The university also paid $26,200 in damages and attorneys’ fees to Ratio Christi.
“We are pleased to see the university resolve this matter to respect the First Amendment rights of Ratio Christi and accommodate the organization’s common-sense leadership requirements. We hope other universities will follow the lead of the University of Houston at Clear Lake,” said ADF senior counsel Gregg Walters. “Public universities across the country are learning that there are consequences when they unlawfully discriminate against students or student groups based on their faith.”
In recent years, ADF has also reached successful settlements with universities in Georgia and Colorado after they agreed to change their policies to protect Ratio Christi’s First Amendment rights.
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