A Missouri lawmaker has proposed a new bill that is designed to make sure that on a college campus, Christian groups can be free to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation while still enjoying all of the perks and privileges of being a student group.
State Rep. Elijah Haahr (R) has introudced HB 104, a bill that prohibits universities from “burdening” any religious organization by denying it recognition based on its beliefs and practices:
No public institution of higher learning shall take any action or enforce any policy that denies a religious student association any benefit available to any other student association, or discriminate against a religious student association with respect to such benefit, based on that association’s requirement that its leaders or members adhere to the association’s sincerely held religious beliefs, comply with the association’s sincere religious observance requirements, comply with the association’s sincere religious standards of conduct, or be committed to furthering the association’s religious missions as such beliefs, requirements, standards, or missions are defined by the association or religion upon which the association is based.
Many universities have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity and they require all student groups to abide by those policies if they wish to receive student funding and use campus spaces. Over the past ten years, many Christian groups, such as the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Christian Legal Society, have tried to challenge these policies on various campuses by requiring that candidates for officer positions not identify as gay, because homosexuality is against their religious beliefs. When campuses then revoke their privileges, they claim that it’s a violation of their religious freedom, but so far, courts have upheld universities’ “all-comers” policies — as in, all who come must be free to participate equally.
Nevertheless, several states have attempted to pass laws like the one now proposed in Missouri to circumvent these campus policies and offer a license to discriminate to these groups. Back in 2012, after one of these conflicts played out at Vanderbilt University, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill that would have overturned its policy. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) ultimately vetoed it, noting that though he disagreed with Vanderbilt’s enforcement of its LGBT protections, he felt the bill constituted government overreach.
The following year, Virginia successfully passed a similar law, which even extended privileges to political groups, not just religious ones. Essentially, at Virginia universities, students have the right to form a group that can access student fees and campus spaces while discriminating against any person not committed to its mission — even if only by the nature of their identity.
The fate of Missouri’s bill remains unclear, but both chambers of the legislature are Republican-controlled. Last year, Haahr proposed a bill of a similar nature that guaranteed students’ rights to express their religious viewpoint at school, including in their classwork, which became law in July. The new higher education bill is but one of many bills proposed across the country this year designed to ensure that Christians can legally discriminate against LGBT people without repercussion in the name of “religious liberty.”