State legislators in Idaho and Virginia have invited religious student clubs to seek official recognition at public universities, even while some Jesuit universities object to the membership policies of the Knights of Columbus.
Many American universities have “all-comers” policies, allowing official recognition of student clubs only if they are open to all students. But critics say such policies ignore the special needs of religious-oriented clubs that have faith requirements for their leaders and members—and they are especially senseless at religious colleges that should be encouraging religious activity.
Idaho’s new law, titled Campus Access for Religious Students, was signed by Gov.C.L. “Butch” Otter on March 29. It requires state universities to recognize religious clubs despite faith-based membership requirements.
Also last month, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a new law ensuring freedom of association for religious student clubs.
But as previously reported by Catholic Education Daily, a Knights of Columbus council was denied recognition last month by Gonzaga University, a Jesuit Catholic university in Spokane, Washington. Sue Weitz, vice president for student life, explained the decision by citing “the University’s commitment to non-discrimination based on certain characteristics, one of which is religion.” Gonzaga’s president is reviewing the decision.
The situation is similar at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Although the student Knights of Columbus Council 6375 has been awarded the national organization’s Outstanding College Council of the Year three times, the Catholics-only group is ineligible for official recognition by the University as a student club. It operates under the special sponsorship of the Campus Ministry office.
In fact Georgetown’s Student Activities Commission funds no faith-based groups, according to the student newspaper. Campus Ministry spends nearly $24,000 per year to support eight religious clubs, and the student government recently allocated $12,000 to help defray the expenses.
Samuel Vincent, the grand knight of Knights of Columbus Council 6077 at Fordham University in New York City, told The Cardinal Newman Society that the council also operates under special supervision from the campus ministry office, because it is ineligible for official recognition as a student club.
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, faces a dual challenge because its members are both Catholic and male. It is not clear that Knights councils can be recognized by state universities under the new laws in Idaho and Virginia,which permit faith-based membership requirements but say nothing about other criteria.Student athletics, often restricted by gender, are not typically governed by the same rules as student clubs.
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