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Church and State (Universities)

By Scott Jaschik

The American Council on Education, joined by six other national higher education groups, is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a lower court’s finding that the University of Wisconsin at Madison improperly denied funding for some activities of a Roman Catholic student group.

The lower court’s ruling sets a dangerous precedent, said a brief filed this week by the college groups. The lower court took away the right of Wisconsin, and potentially other public colleges and universities, to support some student activities but to deny funds to organizations for worship services, proselytizing, or other activities that explicitly involve the practice of religion, according to the brief. The groups that sued Wisconsin and that are satisfied with the lower court’s ruling argue that universities should not treat religious activities in any way differently from other student activities — and that the limits used by Wisconsin infringed on the First Amendment.

The issue of how much deference public colleges and universities must grant religious student groups has become increasingly contentious in federal courts. Just last year, the Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, that public colleges and universities may require religious organizations seeking recognition or funds as campus groups to comply with anti-bias rules. In that case, the Christian Legal Society lost a fight to be recognized as a student group by the University of California Hastings College of Law; the law school denied recognition because the society bars gay people from becoming members, in violation of the equal opportunity rules at Hastings.

Continued at: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/02/04/college_groups_want_supreme_court_to_consider_case_


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