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Published: Wednesday, 3/30/2005

Campus group sues UT on regulation against bias

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Christian Legal Society's University of Toledo chapter is suing school officials, claiming a requirement that the group's constitution contain language barring discrimination on the basis of religion, creed, or sexual orientation violates its constitutional rights.

The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, is similar to cases the chapter's national organization has filed against other colleges, including Ohio State University last year.

In the UT case, the organization of Christian law students and professors contends it will not be able to continue as a registered student organization unless it complies with a request by Ricardo Reddick, an assistant director of student activities, to change the language of its chapter's constitution.

Mr. Reddick declined comment because the case is pending.

The Christian group objects to the university's policy barring student organizations from considering religion, creed, or sexual orientation when it selects its members and leaders, according to the suit. The requirement it claims the university is placing upon it violates the student group's constitutional rights, including the freedom of expressive association, free speech, and free exercise of religion.

The Center for Law & Religious Freedom in Annandale, Va., represents the student group. Timothy J. Tracey, a lawyer for the organization, wouldn't comment on the case other than to say he hoped UT would alter its rules for student organizations.

"We'd like to give the university the opportunity to look at the lawsuit, a chance to evaluate, and hopefully change their policies and take the right course of action," Mr. Tracey said.

Ronald Speier, associate vice president and dean of students at UT, said he couldn't comment directly on the pending litigation.

He said the school's 200 student organizations must follow federal laws dealing with such things as discrimination on the basis of race and gender. He said the school is trying to resolve any differences it has with the Christian Legal Society.

"They're taking issue with the nondiscrimination clause as it relates to their right to congregate with whom they would like to," he said. "I respect that. I personally think that groups have a right to congregate with people they would like to associate with. But it's a fine line because, as a university, we have some other mandates we have to follow. We're trying to work through this with some issues they have presented to us."

Other universities have changed their policies following similar lawsuits filed by the national Christian Legal Society. As part of an agreement to dismiss the case filed against it, Ohio State revised its policies to allow religious student organizations to adopt nondiscrimination statements consistent with those beliefs, according to court records. The case was dismissed last year.

According to a press release the national Christian Legal Society issued in January, Washburn University in Kansas changed its student organization policy so the school's chapter wouldn't be forced to "accept members and officers who oppose their Christian beliefs." The case was dismissed last year, according to court records.

U.S. District Judge James Carr was assigned the case. No hearing dates have been set.

Contact Dale Emch at: daleemch@theblade.com or 419-724-6061.



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