Amy Hall, of Stand to Reason, reports in her article “Cal State Universities Derecognize InterVarsity Clubs,”

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s requirement that leaders in their campus clubs be Christian has been declared unacceptable discrimination by the Cal State University system. The clubs were told they must cease enforcing their requirement that leaders hold Christian beliefs. InterVarsity declined, and after a one-year exemption period, the 23 university campuses in the Cal State system “derecognized” InterVarsity. This means the clubs no longer have free access to campus meeting rooms, nor can they receive student activity money, participate in student fairs, or use the university name in the name of their clubs.

Reread that first sentence: Intervarsity, a Christian campus ministry, is being derecognized by the Cal State University system because they won’t consider leadership applications from those who are not Christians.  This is deemed unacceptable discrimination.

Hall continues,

It seems obvious to me that a Christian club choosing Christian leaders is legitimate religious discrimination. It should seem equally obvious that kicking out any Christian group that doesn’t conform to the administration’s ideas of the right kind of theology is illegitimate religious discrimination, and yet there we are.

I suppose it’s possible that this ridiculous situation is merely the result of a bureaucratic inability to make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate discrimination rather than a targeted strategy to remove religious groups from campuses. But if that were the case, wouldn’t they also “derecognize” every fraternity and sorority on campus? After all, those clubs discriminate on the basis of gender, something clearly frowned upon in the university, so if no distinction can be made between legitimate and illegitimate discrimination, that should be it for the Greek system. But surprise, surprise, fraternities and sororities are exempted from this new non-discrimination policy, making this situation look less like a poorly reasoned principled decision and more like an excuse to excise “the wrong kind” of religious groups.

(See the rest of this article at the STR blog here: http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2014/09/cal-state-universities-derecognize-intervarsity-clubs.html)

So how does one distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate discrimination? Or is discrimination always wrong?

Merriam-Webster defines discrimination in these ways:

: the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people

: the ability to recognize the difference between things that are of good quality and those that are not

: the ability to understand that one thing is different from another thing

By these definitions, clearly the first describes a morally negative condition, but the other two are not. Most often, when people use the word discrimination, they are using it in the sense of the first definition, and they forget the other definitions.  But I’m not just playing a word game here; even if we aren’t using the word as defined by the second or third definition, we still know and live by the concepts in a common-sense way. Let me give some examples of what I consider to be appropriate discrimination (and you probably will too).

When I committed myself to my wife in marriage, I began discriminating against every other person in the world by promising exclusive faithfulness to her.

If some life-threatening disaster occurred in which my family amid a larger group could be saved, yet I could only save a small group, I would discriminate in favor of my family.

If a Hollywood production decided to make a movie depicting the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., the casting crew would racially discriminate in favor of a black man to play the role of Dr. King.

Sororities and fraternities engage in appropriate discrimination when they disallow membership based on gender.

Religious clubs and other organizations discriminate in favor of members of the same religion when appointing leaders within that organization.

Of course, I saved for last the one that is the point of the discussion at hand. Is Intervarsity guilty of discrimination in their leadership appointment? Absolutely. Is it discrimination in which a group is unfairly treated differently than another group? Absolutely not. If Intervarsity dismissed from consideration for leadership in the student club applications based on gender, or body features (eye color, hair color, etc.), or ethnicity, then there would be grounds for a complaint of illicit discrimination. But of course that’s not what is happening here, is it? This student club, whose reason for existence is based on Christian beliefs and dedicated to the spread of the same, is being required to give equal weight in deciding the leadership to atheists, agnostics, muslims, hindus, whatever. If this was, say, a chess club, then that would make sense. Yet to assign in leadership of a religious club someone who may be completely opposed to that religion is to undermine the goals, effectiveness, and perhaps even the existence of the club itself.

I suppose it will be too much to expect consistency across the board with this ruling. We already see that sororities and fraternities have received an exemption from this anti-discrimination ruling, and appropriately so.

From the comments of Hall’s article mentioned above, “Tc” makes what I believe is an accurate observation:

I wonder.

Would the same rules apply to other groups?

Would Muslim groups be told that adhering to Islamic beliefs unacceptable?

Would a democrat group be told that it must allow itself to be open to republican leaders?

Would Holocaust deniers be able to appeal not bring selected a leadership position in a Jewish group?

Would feminist groups be required to accept male leadership who may have anti feminist ideas?

Would atheist groups be required to accept Young Earth Creationists as leaders?

Sadly, the answer is likely no.

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