WWJD: What Would Jefferson Do?

What’s going on at the venerable institution founded by the Senior Statesman from Virginia, Mr. Jefferson? The University of Virginia appears to be straying not only from its deep roots of freedom, but from the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions as well. The UVA Student Council recently denied the application for recognition of a conservative free-market group, “Young Americans for Freedom” (YAF), claiming that YAF’s membership requirements were a violation of the terms and conditions for approval outlined in University policy.

According to their website, “A student organization is ineligible for CIO [Contracted Independent Organization] status when the organization restricts its membership, programs, or activities on the basis of age, color, disability, gender identity, marital status, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, veteran status, and family and genetic information.” 

Evidently, political clubs established for the sole purpose of advocating certain political viewpoints can’t condition membership upon political beliefs. The same goes for faith-based clubs.

However, aside from the obvious logical issues with that, there’s at least one little problem with the policy. It violates the law. Fortunately for YAF, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) made sure they knew it.

For starters, it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Section 12 of Virginia’s Bill of Rights, which states, in relevant part:

“That the freedoms of speech and of the press are among the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained except by despotic governments; that any citizen may freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right; that the General Assembly shall not pass any law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, nor the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for the redress of grievances.”

More precisely, UVA’s policy directly conflicts with a state law passed in 2013 on behalf of The Family Foundation, which provides that:  

“[A] religious or political student organization may determine that ordering the organization's internal affairs, selecting the organization's leaders and members, defining the organization's doctrines, and resolving the organization's disputes are in furtherance of the organization's religious or political mission and that only persons committed to that mission should conduct such activities.”

Game. Set. Match.

The irony of it all is almost more than one can bear. For starters, the club being denied recognition on campus (which includes access to meeting room spaces and potential Student Activity Fee funding), and therefore the ability to assemble for the discussion and expression of ideas, is called – wait for it – the Young Americans for Freedom. (Somehow I get the impression that the Young Americans for Anarchy would probably sail through uninhibited.)

But if that weren’t enough, this is after all the University founded by the immortal Thomas Jefferson himself, by whose direct hand much of Virginia’s Constitution and Bill of Rights as they still remain today were penned! Talk about a PR nightmare.

Though it is certainly not “gospel,” the folks at UVA would do well to screen their decisions by the simple principle of “WWJD” – or, What Would Jefferson Do? With rare exceptions, that’s got to get them to the right place.

As for this scenario, I can’t imagine Jefferson would need any deliberation at all in dispensing with the question of whether to recognize the Young Americans for Freedom. And that’s putting it mildly.