Ratio Christi is a Christian student organization with chapters on college campuses across the United States. It exists to equip students to defend the faith using historical, philosophical and scientific reasons for following Jesus Christ. When it was denied official status on the campus of the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) recently because it requires its leaders to agree with the organization’s values and mission, the group initiated legal steps to protect its constitutional rights.
With the help of attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Ratio Christi filed a federal lawsuit alleging that UHCL violated its First Amendment rights of religious freedom and free speech. It did so, according to the complaint filed in federal district court, by treating the club differently than other student clubs.
The university states that its nondiscrimination policy prohibits “registered student organizations” (RSO) from discriminating based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, veteran status, gender, gender identity and gender expression.
However, as the complaint notes, UHCL in practice allows all kinds of clubs to require membership or leadership to adhere to specific mission statements and values and other qualifications.
The Vietnamese Student Association, for example, requires that its officers be “Vietnamese students currently enrolled at UHCL.” The Student Veterans Association restricts its leadership and membership to “veterans, active duty, reserve, guard personnel and/or their surviving family members.” The International Student Advisory Board requires officers to be international students. Sororities limit their membership and leadership to women. Student sports clubs can restrict their membership based on sex. And the list of examples goes on.
Treating Ratio Christi differently than other RSOs constitutes “viewpoint discrimination” in violation of the First Amendment, says ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton in a press release.
“College should be a time when students learn firsthand how the Constitution protects their right to express their opinion, as well as the opinions and views of those with whom they disagree, but that’s not what’s happening at the University of Houston–Clear Lake,” said Dalton.
“Instead, the university singled out Ratio Christi and its members because of their Christian beliefs, denying them recognition and equal treatment among their peer groups. It’s natural and expected that a Christian organization would require its leaders to be Christian; the university allows other organizations to have similar, commonsense leadership requirements. What we see here is university officials blatantly discriminating against Ratio Christi and banishing them from a fair, free exchange of ideas specifically because of their religious beliefs.”
The RSO designation allows clubs access to student fees which help clubs fund their activities, communicate with students and further the mission of each club. It grants them access to university email channels, facilities and other advantages that contribute to the club’s success on campus.
This is not the first time or campus where nondiscrimination rules were applied unfairly against Ratio Christi. The organization has previously reached legal settlements with the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and Kennesaw State University for taking the same discriminatory position against Ratio Christi as UHCL.
Christian organizations on campus are entitled to a level playing field when it comes to the application of university policies. Both Ratio Christi and ADF are committed to standing up for the rights of faith-based student clubs as they seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
The case is Ratio Christi v. Khator.
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