UNC Greensboro: It’s Not Religion Unless It’s Church?

Legal documents (PDF) filed in a dispute between the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and the student group “Make Up Your Own Mind” (MUYOM), allege that

Defendants [the University] are enforcing their preference for student organizations affiliated with churches against MUYOM, by denying them recognition and the ability to restrict members and leaders to a set of religious beliefs because they are not affiliated with a church, but rather with a local, non-profit, Christian ministry.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom of church. What’s the difference? Like the newly coined and equally disturbing “freedom of worship,” freedom of church means freedom to practice religion in a defined, confined, private space. It is a transparent move towards eliminating Christianity and other religions from public view.

It is also government intrusion into theology, re-defining what counts as “religion” and doing so in a most novel and unusual way. Of course there are public-policy reasons why government must pay attention to realities of what is or is not religion. Its information for that purpose, however, ought to take account of what Christianity (in this case) has to say about itself. Government cannot rightly create new realities of what is or is not religion. That was never its role, and it never ought to be.

This is very disturbing.

See further at First Thoughts.

10 thoughts on “UNC Greensboro: It’s Not Religion Unless It’s Church?

  1. From your “freedom to worship” link…

    I am not given to hysterics or to conspiracy theories. But I do understand the English language. And I know how government can use language to manipulate thought. I did a pretty good job of it when I was an assistant to President Nixon in the ’70s.

    From your “First Thoughts” link…

    Peters was writing about the recent HHS decision to require almost every institution in America other than churches to become abortion providers.

    The honesty of the first link informs us on the second. “Abortion providers”? Interesting how language can be used to manipulate thought, isn’t it?

    I followed the link, which led to another link, which led to another link, at which point I just gave up and starting googling. It’s interesting when you actually look at the facts.

    Make Up Your Own Mind (MUYOM) is a pro-life group associated with the Greensboro Pregnancy Center. According to trademarks.justia.com, the Greensboro Pregnancy Center is classified as education/training, medical, and social services…. no religious organization mentioned anywhere. We go to their website and no overt mention is made of religion – no church names, or scriptures, anything like that.

    If they’re sponsored by religious organizations, why aren’t they advertising that fact? Are they hiding it for some particular reason? That wouldn’t make sense, to hide the fact that you’re religious… so officially they must not be.

    So what we have here is a group sponsored by a seemingly non-religious anti-abortion pregnancy care center wishing to establish a presence on a college campus. They claim to be religious by requiring pledges and moral codes and this and that, but that doesn’t automatically mean that they are actually a religious group – they’re a “pro-life” group who happens to be Christian, not the other way around…. and you don’t have to be Christian to be anti-abortion.

    So we go from “UNC-Greensboro refuses to recognize pro-life group” (src) to “Lawsuit: University Ordered Christian Club to Allow Non-Christian Leaders” (Fox News, of course) to “Christian club isn’t religious” (src) to the article that you referenced, “An Arm of the North Carolina State Government Says Christianity Isn’t a Religion” (src).

    We see the descent into hysteria and hyperbole the further we get from the facts and the truth, and as a bonus get to see how language is used more and more to “manipulate thought”.

    I’m disappointed in you, Tom.

  2. I’ve read the legal complaint, Sault. Have you? See page 2, paragraphs 7-12.

    Is it the government’s place to say that this does not constitute a religious organization?

    What if a group of Christians banded together and formed a Christian group unaffiliated with any other entity at all? Would that be prima facie non-religious??? Come on.

    MUYOM is a religious organization.

  3. This in particular, Sault, is just wrong:

    That wouldn’t make sense, to hide the fact that you’re religious… so officially they must not be.

    I’m disappointed in you.

  4. If I understand the facts correctly, the university is balking at giving religious status to a club that is sponsored by a crisis pregnancy center that has no official religious affiliation.

    The question certainly seems to be whether you can claim to be a religious organization if your sponsors are not.

    I don’t think that you can, and that seems to be the university’s argument as well. The “all comer’s” policy regarding student clubs is one that has come under scrutiny lately, and universities are beginning to hesitate before granting this religious protection.

    What if a group of Christians banded together and formed a Christian group unaffiliated with any other entity at all? Would that be prima facie non-religious??? Come on.

    But they’re not unaffiliated. They’re sponsored by a specific non-profit organization with no official religious affiliation.

    Let’s use a more apples-to-apples comparison –

    Home Depot wants to sponsor a student club dedicated to the advancement of home repair and construction. This student group decides, however, that they’ll make being Christian a requirement to join. Should they get religious protection, even though the sponsoring entity has no official religious affiliation?

  5. That wouldn’t make sense, to hide the fact that you’re religious… so officially they must not be.

    I’m disappointed in you.

    What reason would a religious organization have to not declare its religious beliefs?

    Can a “crisis pregnancy center” have a religious affiliation in the first place and still receive state funding (which I do believe they receive, although I could be wrong)?

  6. I don’t know the answer to your questions. I also don’t know what they have to do with the fact that MUYOM is a religious organization, regardless of who they may or may not be associated with off-campus,

  7. Why would affiliation have any bearing on the nature of the group. Are churches considered religious organizations because of their affiliations? No. They’re considered religious organizations because they say they are religious organizations.

  8. According to the Student Group Recognition Policy (note – the only copy that I could find was from 2010!) –

    The Anti-Discrimination statement must include that student groups may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, military, veteran status, or sexual orientation.

    This does not state that clubs may *not* prevent those who do not share their philosophical/religious beliefs from joining. In fact, I found this article which details how the campus Republican and Libertarian groups changed the anti-discrimination policy to exempt political and religious clubs. Part of their statement advocating for this change is quoted :

    […] it is unreasonable to request political organizations to admit members of opposing parties, and to require us to do so would sabotage the level of political discourse on campus […]

    I agree with this. It doesn’t seem reasonable to say that a bunch of Democrats could be able to join a Republican group and subvert it. I can see how that should reasonably extend to religious groups as well… I would be kind of pissed off if a bunch of Christians infiltrated an atheist/skeptic group, and I’m sure the opposite is true as well.

    I did find one related Supreme Court ruling that might be applicable. In CSL v Martinez the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that the Hastings policy that requires “student groups to accept all students regardless of their status or beliefs in order to obtain official recognition, is […] reasonable”. The principle behind this ruling is that there is no difference between status and conduct – if you are gay, you can’t be excluded because you’re gay (status) or because you are pro-gay (conduct).

    The caveat is that we’re not talking about “status” (race, gender, etc) at all… we’re talking about “conduct” (beliefs) only.

    Okay, let’s jump back to the lawsuit. On page 16 or so of the lawsuit, we find the following language –

    “78. MUYOM is an affiliated student chapter of the Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center, a nonprofit, Christian ministry located in Greensboro, North Carolina.”

    Remember how I noted above that there was no overt religious connotation on the Greenboro PCC website or in their trademark information? I did actually find another website, Greenboro Pregnancy Care Center Supporter Website that appears to not just be aligned with the Greensboro PCC, but represents them as well – and it has Bible quotes and Christian sentiment splashed everywhere. No question here!

    But why is that sentiment not espoused on Greensboro’s official website? Perhaps a legal restriction? Perhaps intentional, to avoid driving non-believers away? I can’t really say.

    What I can say is that it isn’t unreasonable without some degree of inspection to say that the GPCC isn’t a religious organization, and if your group is affiliated with a non-religious and non-political organization, then your case to be given an exemption from the non-discrimination policy is at the very least weakened.

    Point 125, on page 26, states :

    As of the date of the filing of this Verified Complaint, neither Defendant Muyst, nor any other UNCG official, has provided any student associated with the MUYOM student group a final decision on their application for recognition.

    In the most technical sense, their application was never denied, but it wasn’t ruled on either, and that’s a pretty lame position to take (stonewalling, I mean).

    Okay… so after some reading, the problem seems to me that someone wasn’t representing themselves correctly, and it bit them. Either you are a Christian non-profit or you aren’t – if you aren’t, it doesn’t seem reasonable that a direct affiliate could then be considered religious.

    On the other hand, public institutions don’t get the right to say who is religious and who isn’t.

    So, in spite of the shenanigans that the GPCC and its affiliated student club MUYOM have practiced, and even though I find their core message distasteful and dishonest and their actions likewise…

    …they should be granted the exemption.

    I don’t like it, but them’s the facts.

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