DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - After backlash, Wayne State University is dropping its ban on a Christian group.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court, claiming the school removed InterVarsity's official chapter status for expecting its leaders to profess the Christian faith. After more than 75 years in existence, the group's status is being revoked by Wayne State, derecognizing InterVarsity and canceling its scheduled meetings.
Less than two days after the lawsuite, however, Matthew Lockwood, Wayne State's director of communications, confirmed with Church Militant that the school is reversing course, reinstating InterVarsity Christian Fellowship: "After a review of the situation and communicating with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship organization, Wayne State has decided to recertify the group as an official student organization."
"The InterVarsity student group is committed to welcoming and including all students, and the university will not intervene in the group's leadership selection," said Lockwood.
Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, told Church Militant that "it's about time that Wayne State let InterVarsity come in from the cold. Christian student groups should be able to have Christian leaders. Now Wayne State needs to make this permanent and ensure this unfair treatment will never happen again."
The former president of the school's chapter, Cristina Garza, shared her thoughts regarding the school's decision to allow the group back on campus: "Being part of our school community has meant the world to us, and we're so glad that Wayne State is letting us back on campus."
"We hope the school will make this change permanent, so no other students have to go through what we've been through over the last six months," she said.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship held weekly meetings, including Bible studies and prayer vigils. Members also serve in the community, including the Wayne State food pantry. The group has been active on campus since at least 1941, with its stated purpose "to establish and advance at colleges and universities witnessing communities of students and faculty who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord."
On its decision to revoke InterVarsity's status, Wayne State issued a statement Wednesday claiming the group discriminated against non-Christians:
Wayne State University took action to decertify the student organization InterVarsity because it is in violation of the university's non-discrimination policy, which is consistent with the United States Constitution. Every student organization that applies for organizational status must agree to this policy before being certified. Leaders of this group read and agreed to the policy during the application process.
Last spring, InterVarsity applied to renew its student organization with the University. The former president of the school's chapter, Cristina Garza, submitted its constitution. The constitution, which models those of other chapters at other schools, including the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, allows all students to join as members regardless of religious beliefs, while requiring leaders to be practicing Christians.
The group was notified in October that its constitution was not approved and told by the coordinator of student life and student organization services, Ricardo Villarosa, that the constitution failed to abide by the school's non-discrimination policy. Wayne State's policy forbids discrimination based on "race, color, sex (including gender identity), national origin, religion, age, sexual orientation, familial status, marital status, height, weight, disability, or veteran status" in all of its "operations, employment opportunities, educational programs, and related activities."
"Asking religious leaders to practice what they preach isn't discrimination, it's integrity," commented Lori Windham. "Targeting one Christian group that's served the campus for over 75 years, while giving itself and dozens of larger groups a pass is truly discriminatory."
The suit claims that for InterVarsity to remain a club and fulfill its mission, it "must have leaders who themselves embrace and follow InterVarsity's mission. InterVarsity's Bible studies, prayers, worship, and religious service would be hollow, inauthentic, and unlikely to endure if it did not require its leaders to share its basic organizational mission and guiding purpose."
The members continue their Bible study, renting their own room each time for $100 in the student center, which cost the group $2,720 as of the filing of the lawsuit.