Here is the third of three summaries on critical issues and bills passed by the General Assembly, in addition to the transportation tax bill, that Governor Bob McDonnell must act on before tonight's midnight deadline, by when he must either sign, amend or veto them. (See Part 1, on publicly funded abortions, here. See part 2, on keeping families together, here.) We urge Governor Bob McDonnell to protect the religious liberty of all students on college campuses, and sign the religious liberty legislation on his desk now.
Liberal, secular groups are on the offensive (see the Richmond Times-Dispatch), urging Governor McDonnell to veto two priority bills of The Family Foundation, SB 1074, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) and HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock). The bills, passed by the General Assembly, will protect the rights of religious and political student groups at public colleges to choose members and leadership based on their beliefs and principles.
Participating in groups and organizations with missions that match their religious or political beliefs is a longstanding tradition for college students. Unfortunately, some universities around the country have enacted so-called "all-comers"” policies, which essentially prohibits students from setting the criteria for the members and leaders of their own organizations. Consequently, a student group that is recognized by a university and receives funding or use of campus facilities cannot have any kind of requirement that members or leaders actually share the beliefs or believe in the mission of the group!
Free association is a foundational constitutional principle. But as we know, those kinds of freedoms are slowly being reduced. SB 1074 and HB 1617 will ensure that the current policy of the majority of Virginia's colleges and universities will continue.
The primary opposition to the bills has been the ACLU, which is, unfortunately, misrepresenting their intent and the law itself. They continue to argue that the bills would "override a U.S. Supreme Court decision" that upheld the constitutionality of all-comers policies. The truth, however, is that while the court upheld the policies it did not require the policies. The ACLU seems to ignore two other important Supreme Court cases where it ruled that universities cannot discriminate against religiously affiliated student groups on the basis of the content of those groups' speech by denying them funding, calling it viewpoint discrimination. To circumvent the Supreme Court, colleges began instituting "all-comers policies," which essentially mean that student groups can exist as long as they have no viewpoint at all.
Opponents to the legislation claimed that the bills allow student groups to "discriminate" using "taxpayer funding." Such a position implies that simply choosing to freely associate with people of similar ideas and beliefs is inherently discriminatory. Opponents also ignore the fact that the "funding" often comes from student activity fees, not tax dollars.