The Senate of Virginia yesterday passed a priority for The Family Foundation, legislation that protects the free association rights of students on public college campuses. HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), ensures that religious and political organizations will not be discriminated against because of their beliefs and values. The bill passed 21-18 with several Democrats joining Republicans to pass the legislation. The bill already passed the House, so it is now on its way to Governor Bob McDonnell for his signature. Participating in groups and organizations with missions that match their religious or political beliefs is a longstanding tradition for college students. Unfortunately, in the name of "tolerance," a few universities in Virginia (and even more so around the country) have begun enacting the so-called "all-comers" policies, which prevent these groups from being able to set criteria for members and leaders. Under these policies, student groups recognized by the university, receiving funding from it or using campus facilities are prohibited from having any kind of requirement that members or leaders actually share the beliefs or believe in the mission of the group!

Opponents to the legislation claimed that the bill allows student groups to "discriminate" using "taxpayer funding" (never mind that many such clubs are funded by activity fees charged to the students in addition to their tuition). Such a position implies that simply choosing to freely associate with people of similar ideas and beliefs is inherently discriminatory. Free association is a foundational constitutional principle but, as we know, those kinds of freedoms are slowly being reduced. The win is so significant that even the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (a bipartisan group of Congressmen) took notice.

The companion Senate legislation, SB 1074, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), should be heard in the House Education Committee tomorrow.