Gov. Bob McDonnell will have the next word on legislation allowing religious and political groups at state colleges to limit eligibility for membership and leadership positions, regardless of campus non-discrimination policies.
The Senate today passed a bill that already had made it through the House of Delegates. House Bill 1617 is designed to ensure that political groups don’t have to accept members from another party and religious groups can limit participation to individuals of the same faith. The legislation would prevent public colleges, to the extent allowed by federal law, from discriminating against political and religious organizations that adopt restrictive membership policies.
“This relates to the ability of Catholic or Jewish or Baptist groups that limit their membership to Catholics or Jewish or Baptist members,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, who sponsored a Senate version of the bill. “It also creates the ability of political organizations to limit their membership or their leadership.”
The bill passed by a vote of 21-18, but not before two Democrats questioned the intent of the legislation during a brief floor debate.
“It purports to prevent the colleges and universities from doing what they ought to be doing, which is enforcing their own anti-discrimination policies,” said Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.
Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said the First Amendment protects the right of any group “to have their beliefs, their constitution, their bylaws.”
But, Ebbin said, “if their using university money to discriminate, that’s where I differ.”
“This bill is not about religion,” Ebbin said. “It’s about using university money, and for us to tell universities whether or not they can have a policy, and it begins a slippery slope.”
A McDonnell spokesman said the governor will review the bill when it reaches his desk.
The Senate version of the bill (SB 1074) was passed by the Senate last week and has been sent to the House Education Committee.
– Michael Sluss