A Southwest Missouri state representative is continuing his legislative crusade to protect the religious freedom of students in Missouri's public schools. Representative Elijah Haahr
of Springfield has filed the Student Freedom of Association Act. The bill would prohibit
discrimination against student religious groups by public colleges and universities.
Representative Haahr's legislation would ban policies by public institutions of higher learning that require religious student associations to accept members who do not subscribe to the club's religious mission and values. Student religious groups would be able to maintain their association rules that require members to adhere to the organization's religious beliefs, religious observances, and religious standards of conduct.
The proposal stipulates that state higher education institutions cannot deny any "benefits" to student religious groups that are available to any other
non-religious student association. "Benefits" include recognition, registration, funding, and use of facilities and channels of communication.
Representative Haahr's bill also prohibits any college or university from taking actions which would "substantially burden" a student's exercise of religion. This would include any action denying a student an opportunity to engage in religious activities, or coercing a student to engage in conduct or expression contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.
The Springfield legislator's initiative is a response to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Christian Legal Society v. Martinez
. In that case, the High Court upheld by a 5-4 vote a policy of the University of California's Hastings College of Law. That policy required all student groups to allow any student to be a
member or leader--what has become known as an "all comers" policy.
The Christian Legal Society required its members to affirm their belief in the organization's Statement of Faith. That statement included belief in "the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ," belief in "the Bible as the inspired Word of God," and a decision to make Jesus Christ "the Lord of my life."
The controversy arose when a group of homosexual students sought to join the Christian Legal Society despite their disagreement with the CLS's Statement of Faith. University officials ruled that the failure of the club to grant membership to the homosexual students
violated the university's policies prohibiting "sexual orientation" discrimination.
In its decision, written by ultra-liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court ruled that the "all-comers" policy was constitutional because it was somehow a "reasonable, viewpoint-neutral" standard. In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the oppressive decision eliminated free speech on campus "that offends prevailing standards of political correctness." He further stated that the ruling equipped college administrators with a "handy weapon" to suppress the speech of unpopular groups.
While the Supreme Court ruled that the "all-comers" policy at Hastings was constitutionally permissible, the judges did not rule that states or universities were required to adopt such a policy. Thus the basis for Representative Haahr's bill.