Virginia Senate Approves Bill Allowing College Groups to Discriminate Based On Religious Beliefs

The Virginia state Senate this week approved a bill that would allow student groups at publicly funded colleges and universities to discriminate against members whose religious beliefs don’t align with those of the group.

The bill’s text reads:

1. A religious or political student organization may determine that ordering the organization’s internal affairs, selecting the organization’s leaders and members, defining the organization’s doctrines, and resolving the organization’s disputes are in furtherance of the organization’s religious or political mission and that only persons committed to that mission should conduct such activities.

It further specifies that colleges may not discriminate against groups that, well, discriminate.

In addition to discriminating against potential members based on their belief systems, the bill paves a route for religious groups to keep out LGBT students. Members of the LGBT rights group Equality Virginia say proponents used convoluted arguments to try and muddle the bill’s discriminatory nature:

“Sen. (Mark) Obenshain (R-Va.), the bill’s patron, used free association in his argument and was insistent that LGBT people, vegans, Republicans, and Democrats would be able to have their own groups,” Kevin Clay, spokesperson for Equality Virginia told Campus Progress. However, he continued, “excluding students from joining an organization is discrimination plain and simple, and the true impact is to be seen here.”

According to Campus Progress, some legislators echoed that fear:

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Va.), the only openly gay legislator in Virginia, illuminated what he believed to be the true intention of the bill: “Virginia law and federal law allow discrimination against gay people, and that’s what this bill is about — plain and simple. It’s not about freedom of expression, because groups are allowed to express themselves any way they want. It’s about using tax payer dollars to fund discrimination.

The bill had already passed in a lower house, so now it’s up to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to approve it or strike it down. As Clay told Campus Progress:

“Public universities should foster free speech and expression in compliance with their policies of inclusion and nondiscrimination, and providing funding to organizations that do the opposite would be contradictory and wrong.”

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