BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published February 3, 2013
Last week, reports surfaced that the University had revoked the Asian InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s designation as an official student organization, a move group members and the media called discriminatory. According to the club, a non-denominational campus ministry, the University kicked the group off campus due to AIVCF’s policy requiring those seeking leadership to sign a statement confirming their Christianity. The University denied these claims in a statement released Friday, saying the club wasn't removed, but instead had neglected annual registration deadlines. While the University may not have ousted AIVCF, the club’s constitution violates nondiscriminatory policies and prevents students from participating in leadership roles. If the club truly wants to maintain a “spirit of openness,” AIVCF should modify their constitution and give all students the opportunity to get involved in the organization.
The University’s nondiscrimination policy clearly states that Michigan “is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of … religion.” Preventing non-Christians from occupying leadership positions is therefore discrimination according to the University’s policy, regardless of the nature of the student organization laid out in the AIVCF statement of purpose. Removing the group’s campus affiliation reaffirms the University’s commitment to nondiscrimination. AIVCF was also informed in December that there was a problem with their constitution and that they would need to revise it, and so far the group has failed to do so.
However, there are two other InterVarsity groups currently recognized by the University whose constitutions include a statement of faith requirement for student leaders, similar to AIVCF’s constitution. This indicates that the Center for Campus Involvement, the arm of the University that deals with student organization applications, needs to ensure that it consistently applies its policies across all student organizations. It should pay particular attention to member and leadership selection processes, while remembering that student group disaffiliation should only occur after full consideration of the group in the context of how the University has treated similar issues in the past.
The University’s enforcement of its policies cannot be construed as an “attack on religion” as several news articles have asserted. It's true that the organization won't have access to some student-group funding and can't reserve space for meetings until it registers a constitution that complies with University policies. But this is well within the University’s normal procedures, as it requires student organizations to re-register every year. According to the University’s press release, leaders of AIVCF and University officials are meeting this week regarding the group’s re-registration process, indicating the University’s commitment to religious diversity and free speech.
The nearly 70 student religious organizations at the University— like Christians on Campus and the Muslim Student Association reflect the vibrancy of Michigan’s religious community. The Asian InterVarsity Christian Fellowship can easily remain among them through submitting a constitution that complies with the University’s nondiscrimination policy.