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Published: Sunday, 1/23/2011

No to bias

LAST summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a California law school was within its rights to withhold official recognition from a campus group that was not open to all students. Student government leaders at Ohio State University believe, correctly, that this state's flagship public university should follow that example.

OSU's Council on Student Affairs wants the university to drop an exemption that allows spiritually based student groups to deny membership to people who don't share the same "sincerely held religious beliefs." Religious groups on campus now can exclude homosexuals, atheists, people of other religions, and anyone else whose religious beliefs they disagree with, and still collect a share of student-paid activity fees and enjoy other benefits of university recognition.

At the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University, recognized student groups are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, color, handicap, or national origin. That was the rule at OSU as well - until 2004.

That year, the local chapter of the Christian Legal Society sued OSU for the right to limit membership to people who shared their core beliefs. Rather than fight, OSU changed its policy to allow religious groups to practice selective membership.

The society also was at the heart of last summer's Supreme Court ruling. The University of California chapter had sued the Hastings law school, claiming the university's nondiscrimination policy was a violation of the group's First Amendment rights to free speech, religion, and association.

The case made it to the high court, where justices rejected the legal society's argument. In the majority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote that compliance with an all-comers policy is "a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition" of university recognition. She noted that the legal society, rather than seeking equality, wanted preferential treatment.

Student-based religious groups have the right to choose who can or can't become members. They also have the right to seek the benefits, including funding from student fees, that come with university recognition. But they can't have both.

That's clear at UT, BGSU, and most other Ohio colleges. The nation's highest court has confirmed the principle. When a new school year starts, it should be the rule at OSU.



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