Freshmen Leaders in Christ is a recognized student organization at Texas A&M University. On May 27, 2009, the University’s Department of Student Activities sent a letter to FLiC informing the group that its constitution met all the required components for recognition except for the membership provision, which restricts membership to “all freshman at Texas A&M University who declare themselves as Christian, are following Christ in their Christian walks, and whose desire is to serve others as a way of following Christ’s example of leadership.” The University argued that this provision violated Student Rule 41.1.7, which stated that “Student organizations must be open in their membership unless otherwise permitted under applicable federal law.” FLiC limited its membership to Christians to maintain and preserve its religious mission and expression on campus. The University had determined that FLiC’s membership criteria did not “meet the standards of applicable federal law.” During the summer, FLiC attempted to resolve the membership issue with the University, but the University refused to allow FLiC to define its membership based on Christian faith. The University called FLiC’s membership too “restrictive” and that because federal law forbids discrimination based on “religion,” FLiC’s membership criteria violated Student Rule 41.1.7. If FLiC lost its recognized status, it would have been denied access to innumerable avenues of communication that allow student organizations to get their message out and recruit new members, including a free group website, access to permits for campus speech, eligibility to apply for office space, use of university facilities, and eligibility to apply for funding. On July 22, 2009, the ADF Center for Academic Freedom sent a demand letter to the University stating that its refusal to recognize FLiC as a student organization violated FLiC’s First Amendment right to associate freely with likeminded students.
WIN. On August 27, 2009, the University informed ADF that it would recognize FLiC as an official student organization for the 2009–2010 academic year and not require it to change its organizational constitution.
The forced abandonment of FLiC’s restrictive membership policy would have changed the message it sought to convey internally to the organization’s members and externally to the university community and would have eviscerated the very purpose for the group’s existence. Christian student organizations at public universities have a constitutional right to associate freely with likeminded students and cannot be denied recognized based on their membership requirements.
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