Challenge results in change in Virginia Tech policy involving religious groups
At the urging of conservative advocacy groups, Virginia Tech has reversed a policy that excluded most student religious organizations from receiving funding available to other university-sanctioned interest groups.
Several hundred student organizations register for official university recognition each year, and if approved may apply for a share of more than $650,000 in student fee monies set aside for programs, events and expenses.
About $320,000 of that goes to the Virginia Tech Union, which sponsors concerts, speakers, major stage performances and other large events. The rest is divided among other applicants, with grants ranging from $350 to the Multicultural Greek Council to more than $138,000 to the Black Student Alliance.
About 70 student organizations that list religious interest as their main purpose were not allowed to apply for any funding under the previous policy.
But that changed after the Virginia Family Foundation and the Georgia-based Alliance Defense Fund contacted Tech officials by letter in April, arguing that the policy violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The groups objected to a paragraph in the policy which read: “Organizations will not be provided funding to support religious worship or religious proselytizing. Funding requests to host religiously oriented programs, on campus and open to the community, that are educational and balanced in nature will be considered by the board.”
Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said university legal counsel, after reviewing the Alliance Defense Fund’s argument, advised that the policy likely didn’t pass Constitutional muster.
Hincker said on June 4, former Vice President for Student Affairs Ed Spencer “directed that the paragraph be stricken from the policy, and it has been.”
But several other restrictions and eligibility requirements remain in force, including a restriction on funding political campaign activities.
No one from the Family Foundation was available to comment on the policy change Friday. But in a news release, foundation director Victoria Cobb wrote that “Virginia Tech’s blatant anti-religious discrimination came at a time when colleges and universities in other states have denied access to services for Christian student groups unless they implement so-called ‘all comers’ policies … Essentially, groups that have statements of faith regarding monogamy and homosexuality are being attacked for being ‘discriminatory’ and forced off campus!”
But because of the work of the foundation and the Alliance Defense Fund, “Institutions that boast of ‘freedom of thought’ need to be reminded of the ‘freedom of religion’ as well,” the release stated.
To see a list of religious oriented student organizations at Virginia Tech, visit http://goo.gl/9aRLR.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1675
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