Texas A&M Student Body President Nixes Religious Exemption to Student Fees

Religious students at Texas A&M University have spent the last few weeks coming up with creative ways to scare off GLBT students once and for all. Earlier this month, they nearly succeeded.

As a sneaky way to eliminate any and all support for gay life on campus, some students authored a measure that would allow anyone with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to opt out of paying the portion of their student fees allotted toward the school’s GLBT Resource Center, used by more than a thousand Aggies each semester.

Of course, the bill’s language was altered at the last minute to make it appear less discriminatory and more oriented toward “religious freedom.”

For weeks, the student-led bill had been aimed at defunding the Texas A&M GLBT center, but approximately 24 hours before the final vote, the “GLBT Funding Opt Out Bill” became “The Religious Funding Exemption Bill.” Its scope was broadened, and it did not specifically mention GLBT services.

Last week, following hours of intense debate, the school’s student senate voted 35-28 to approve the measure. As the votes were counted, reported The Eagle, some students and senators cursed or stormed out of the room, and the woman tallying the votes started crying.

A student holds up a sign opposing the Religious Funding Exemption Bill (Stuart Villanueva – The Eagle)

Student Andrew Lupo, who identified as openly gay, spoke against the bill.

“The Religious Funding Exemption bill is a facade to deprive GLBT students of resources to create a safe environment,” Lupo said to the senators. “I see so many of you, you’re young — 18 and 19 years old– and there is a great future for you. Is this how you want to begin your career — by attacking your own Aggies, your own community?”

Student Aaron Ackerman disagreed and compared forcing students to pay for the GLBT center to forcing doctors to perform partial-birth abortions.

“Our decision here is not going to reach that far,” Ackerman said. “I just want to show how dangerous a philosophy is that some organization, government or otherwise, can make a person do what is against their most deeply held beliefs.”

There’s some good news, though, because student body president John Claybrook intervened. On Friday, Claybrook vetoed the bill, announcing he did not support its divisive nature and the harmful way in which it portrayed Texas A&M across the nation. The student senate responded that they would not seek to override his veto, so the legislation is essentially dead:

“The damage must stop today,” Claybrook wrote in a letter announcing his intention to veto. “Texas A&M students represent our core value of respect exceptionally and I’m very proud of the family at this university. Now, more than ever, is the time to show great resolve and come together, treating each other like the family that we are.

University President R. Bowen Loftin hadn’t commented on the matter until Friday, when he released a statement that didn’t side with either group, but instead reiterated the school’s commitment to respect and community:

“Although differences of opinion in an institution committed to education are normal, if not intrinsic, we must commit ourselves to the highest standards of communication, expecting, and even seeking, to have our beliefs and ideas challenged in respectful and constructive ways,” Loftin said.

We should be furious and perhaps frightened that students not only supported, but wrote a measure intended to demean and humiliate their peers — and that the measure nearly passed. It’s a measure that could theoretically have allowed students to “opt out” of funding atheist groups, politically unpopular groups, and any number of groups they didn’t agree with for religious reasons. Texas A&M has light-years to go before it catches up to other educational institutions in the country in terms of acceptance, diversity, and general common sense. And if a deliberately discriminatory measure could gain this much support in so little time, I’m not very confident it’ll get there anytime soon.

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.

  • SpursFan

    As an Aggie alum, I’ll admit that my alma matter is a VERY conservative and reactionary place. That being said, I would contend that we’ve made great strides in the past decade. Kudos to Claybrook.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Hypocritical pieces of shit. They yell and scream about how tax exemptions are their “rights” because of religion, but they shouldn’t have to pay taxes to support things they don’t believe in? I guess that’s only for us second-class non-believers.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    to make it appear less discriminatory and more oriented toward “religious freedom.”

    Same difference. Religion is the last refuge of bigots.

  • Kirby_G

    This is indicative of the larger political landscape that is occurring in the US, though.

    The healthcare debate is about not wanting to pay for people that aren’t you and yours. The immigration debate is about not wanting to support people who will be different than you. The gay marriage debate is about not wanting a group to find their own definition of a happy life.

    It’s about “I got mine, I’m not going to help you with yours because it’s not exactly the same as mine.” Any hint of putting money towards something a group disagrees with is “socialism” instead of “helping out your fellow man”.

    Fighting for the pursuit of happiness is gone, because that implies that each person can find their own happiness. Now it’s about the “pursuit of what I want, screw you”.

    It would make sense that people with long-help strong beliefs are scared of challenges, but this attitude is now so pervasive that youth are taking it as a default. That’s bad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hvandesa Heather Van De Sande

    Why the switch from LGBT to GLBT?

  • Mark W.

    Texas…enough said.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

    That’s what they call their center, so we ran with that for this post.

  • KOB

    I graduated from A&M and it upset me to hear about this. A&M is a traditionally conservative school, however, I do see some reason to hope. I take heart in the Aggies who formed a maroon wall to protest the hatefulness of the Westboro Baptist Church last summer. My family happened to be visiting College Station that day and it made me proud.
    As disheartening as this recent news was, I still have hope that A&M will come around to embracing equality.

  • rwlawoffice

    How is not wanting to pay for something that you don’t agree with an act intended to demean or humiliate your peers? This type of response is the typical one from those that only see tolerance of views one way. For example, where is the outcry when Christian groups are denied recognition on campuses yet pay the same fees as everyone else? Look at Vanderbilt for example. Or the University of Montana Law school denying funding to the Christian Legal Society. Was that demeaning and humiliating to Christian law students?

    The fact is students in this country have a constitutional right to religious freedom which includes the freedom not to have their money be used for things that they don’t agree with. It is not an attack on anyone, it is them upholding their beliefs.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Yeah, though apparently only Christians have that right. You know, since the rest of us don’t get to dictate what our money is and isn’t spent on when we pay taxes and fees.

    Why do only Christians get this? And why shouldn’t we be outraged that the rest of us don’t?

    And take your “you’re not tolerating my intolerance!” whining elsewhere. Or shove it up your ass, whichever you prefer. It’s the typical cry of people who have no real argument but think they’re being smart.

  • Carpinions

    The anti-LGBTQ side has no arguments. They have nothing to tolerate. The illogic of their argumentation, coupled with the overt sense of entitlement and social privilege that stems from literally hundreds of years of active, specified discrimination, makes them intolerable. This is a simple concept.

    Believing an unleavened wafer, when blessed, is a religious belief. If not accepting fellow human beings as equal and deserving of the same rights, while basing those beliefs on the nonsensical and non sequitur, is also one’s religious belief, then it will be just another way that civil society must temper religion into the peaceful entity it claims to be, and not the other way around.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    And what are they putting on their BLTs anyway, Gravy?

  • http://billybobsbibleblog.blogspot.com/ billybobbibb

    Yep, because generalizations and stereotypes are so much easier than critical thought.

  • http://billybobsbibleblog.blogspot.com/ billybobbibb

    As long as the policy is applied uniformly, that is, that atheist groups can opt out of paying for religious programs based on their lack of belief, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anya-Khan/100003261388889 Anya Khan

    No, you are a bigot, not the religious

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anya-Khan/100003261388889 Anya Khan

    The school has stopped funding most Christian groups. They feel letting them on campus is enough

  • Reginald Selkirk

    “No I’m not, you are” – I’ll bet it took you all morning to think that one up. Congrats.

  • Question Everything

    When Christian groups are denied representation on campus, it is often because the law must be applied equally to all groups, and the campus would prefer to lose the Christian group than allow a LGBT, atheist, or other group they disagree with.

    And I’ve never heard of anything called the equivalent of “Christian Funding Opt Out Bill”, have you?

  • kevin white

    That’s about as original as people saying that the earth is 6000 years old.

  • Helanna

    Oh, awesome! In that case, the government owes me a metric shitton of money. I didn’t realize that I was allowed to dictate how they spent my taxes!

    Seriously. Students do not get to dictate how their tuition is spent. It being a ‘constitutional right’ is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard this month. It’s a fucking college. It is completely fucking optional. If you don’t like that they support an LGBT group, fucking leave, and then none of your money is being spent on stuff you disagree with!

    This isn’t an ‘attack on religious freedom’, it’s basic common sense. Not to mention, with a bill like this, a student would be able to opt out of basically anything if they ‘didn’t believe’ in it. This was nothing more than a cowardly attempt to remove funding from a group others disagreed with, and it does the president of the college credit that he vetoed it in favor of supporting the community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/garret.brown.7 Garret Shane Brown

    I go to A&M and I’m ashamed of my fellow aggies. I’m really wondering why I even came here to begin with.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    “I just want to show how dangerous a philosophy is that some organization, government or otherwise, can make a person do what is against their most deeply held beliefs.”

    Isn’t it weird that you can say no government funding for things that you oppose, like reproductive rights for women or this center, and yet I am not allowed to opt out of my money going to pay for military expenditures?

    Government funding does not allow you a la carte on where your money goes.

  • qt314

    There’s a reason the southern states get singled out in the voting rights act.

  • Marco Conti

    Except they go out of their way to live up to the stereotyping.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    You must have attended the Pee Wee Herman School of Debate.

  • Marco Conti

    The logical conclusion to the bill that eventually didn’t pass would have been that each student would have been in their right to refuse to pay whatever portion of their tuition that went to any group they disagreed with.

    It doesn’t take a genius to see that an idea like that is not only unworkable, but applied universally produces strife and sectarianism. The atheist and LGBT students would have refused to pay the portion going to the religious groups (and I have a feeling that at Texas A&M they tend to be bigger and spend more money) and soon enough the whole idea of campus groups would have degenerated into each group holding bake sales to fund itself.

    It was a grossly discriminatory initiative and it ended up exactly where it belongs. In the trash.

  • Marco Conti

    Unfortunately, opposition to the WBC is far from being a sign of enlightenment. My rabidly conservative, tea party loving “friends” (people I have to work with) hate the WBC as much as everyone else.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    The constitution doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate under the pretense of their religious beliefs. Absolute nonsense. Standing up to bigotry is not bigotry. Typical bully mentality.

  • Stev84

    It rolls off the tongue a bit easier

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    Personally, I’d love to opt out of funding the idiot christian club that posts photos of aborted fetuses in the middle of my campus square every year, but at the end of the day I accept that it’s a small price to pay for the greater good of the community.

  • DougI

    Fundies will claim they are discriminated against because they aren’t given special rights nobody else can enjoy.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    They alway argue they are discriminated against by citing someone’s refusal to let them discriminate against someone else!

  • John

    The problem with using WBC as a metric for something like this is that they go after dead soldiers, which combined with their homophobia limits the number of people who don’t oppose them for at least one of those reasons to a tiny minority.

  • Pepe

    Hehe. (I actually laughed reading that).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Echo-Moon/100000456842312 Echo Moon

    boy is that a load of bullpuckie!!! the wording on the forementioned bill was changed within 24hrs before the vote?? and that doesn’t sound suspicious? Yeah right. i have a bridge to sell ya too.

    also, your statement that students have the constitutional right to not pay their money one something they don’t agree with? since when??? so all students can refused to have any of their fees go towards classes and courses that they don’t agree with???? sure wouldn’t be many schools left after that now would there.

    it goes on and on. religious freedom does not give anyone the right to discriminate. religious freedom does not give anyone the right to belittle others that they don’t agree with.

    Christ did not preach or teach hatred and discrimination.

  • Birdie1986

    Every once in a while, individuals, and even groups, in Texas, even at a place as conservative as Texas A&M, will surprise you by actually being reasonable, even enlightened. It is very frightening that so many people supported it, but after living in Texas for a while, I have learned that you may get used to the stupidity, but you don’t dare stop fighting against it. Kudos to the student body president for having the courage to stand up to those people. At a school like A&M, at which a vast majority of the student body acts like they are members of a religious cult, anyway (the Aggie religion), it is refreshing to see someone that has the courage to go against a conservative position.

  • anon101

    These LGBT resource
    centers are typical left wing ideologue pet projects. If this waste
    of money can be stopped good for them.

  • rwlawoffice

    Very good job and not answering the questions posed.

    People of faith have the right to practice their religion, including how they spend their money. Its the First Amendment to the constitution.

    As for the argument that you only see tolerance for your opinions, thank you for proving my point.

  • rwlawoffice

    I hope cursing makes you feel better but it really degrades your argument. It is a religious freedom argument and the opt out protects that religious freedom. Even though it is not a constitutional right, I would not be opposed to a similar opt out for those that did not want to support Christian organizations at their universities. But instead of that, Universities refuse to recognize these organizations at all unless they give up their religious beliefs to be recognized. That is unconstitutional.

  • rwlawoffice

    Actually, Christian groups are removed or not recognized because they must give up their religious beliefs in order to be recognized.

  • rwlawoffice

    Religious belief is more than worship. It involves all aspects of your life. For those who claim to be fighting for equality and the freedom to live their life according to their conscious, the LGBT side is quick to take it away and attack those that don’t agree with them. That is the intolerance I speak of. For example, a florist in Washington state being sued for standing up to her religious beliefs for refusing to provide flowers for a same sex marriage. Instead of going to a different florist in tolerance of that one’s religious beliefs, the customer filed a complaint and got the AG to sue them. As Helenna so eloquently put it in her post, the customer should have gone to a different florist if she didn’t like how that florist ran her business.

  • rwlawoffice

    If they fund other groups but fail to fund Christian groups based upon their beliefs, then it is unconstitutional. If the students make this decision on an individual basis I believe it would be different.

  • Question Everything

    Citation, please.

  • decathelite

    You have the right to spend your money as you see fit – don’t go to this school. Part of being a citizen of a melting pot society is that sometimes (gasp!) you might have to pay for something you don’t like.
    Do I like war? No, so why should I have to pay taxes to support a war?
    Are you autistic? No? So why should you have to pay health insurance that covers autism treatments?

    You can choose how you spend your money, but you don’t always get to dictate how other people spend the money you give them. If the university s required to spend money on GLBT services (because they provide it to Christian groups and to not do so would be discrimination), you don’t have to support the university by going there.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    Do you miss segregation too?

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    Have you ever considered that these anti-gay religious groups may hold beliefs so rigid that they are incompatible with the campus group system? Which makes it their problem, not the rest of the student body. We don’t make exemptions for Amish bus drivers.

  • decathelite

    The Christian Legal Society was denied funding because it required its voting members to adhere to a Statement of Faith that included no sex outside marriage. However, the Student Bar Association at University of Montana required all groups to be open to any student.

    You can adhere to your own personal statement of faith, but you cannot force others to comply. The CLS essentially said, “you can’t be a voting member unless you sign his statement,” which prevents all students from being voting members of the group.

    In order to be recognized, they must give up forcing their religious beliefs on others. They must give up requiring others to hold the same beliefs they do.They can retain their personal religious beliefs all they want.

    Vanderbilt is a private university. They can discriminate against whoever they want.

  • indorri

    My company cannot tell me what to buy with the salary they pay me.

    If the students want to change what gets funded, they can vote on that. Otherwise, they are asking for a special discount rate on tuition based on their religion.

  • indorri

    Different category of discussion: freedom of association with respect to businesses is what you want to be arguing, not religious freedom.

  • decathelite

    Under the Consumer Protection Act in Washington State, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same sex couples the same product or service.


    Do you think you’re some kind of lawyer? Because you’re awful at it.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    Oh… he has “law office” in his name. I didn’t catch that.

    It’s not that the customer should have gone to a different florist if she didn’t like how that florist ran her business. It’s that the florist should have set up shop in a different state if he/she didn’t like Washington’s anti-discrimination laws. I hear Missouri still has plenty of bigots willing to accomodate.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    We love you too.

  • Chak 47

    But it was 35-28. In TEXAS. That’s practically a landslide for LGBT rights.

    Besides, if it had passed, would students have had the right to withhold fees from campus religious organizations? I’m certain there are more of them, that get school funding, than there are of atheist organizations.

  • http://twitter.com/JasonOfTerra PhiloKGB

    I’m sure it’s never occurred to you that the percentage breakdown would give Christians an overwhelming advantage to shut down any organization, should they happen to “sincerely” object to it. What could go wrong with that?

  • Rwlawoffice

    Does the same work in reverse? If a same sex couple wants to get married and they go to a florist that only does traditional marriages, should they just go find another florist or should they have the attorney general sue on their behalf? The Christian is told to go somewhere else that supports their view. How about the same sex couple?

  • Rwlawoffice

    No they don’t. It is the constitutional right called freedom of association.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Are all same sex couples black? Why bring up segregation? Your attempt to relate skin color to behavior fails.

    Forcing a business to conduct business in opposition to their religious beliefs raises concerns that their right to freely exercise their religion is being violated. I know the liberal answer is find another line of work, but that pesky first amendment gets in the way of that argument

  • Rwlawoffice

    Fully aware if that law and when it conflicts with the constitutional right to exercise religion, the state law is unconstitutional. As a lawyer I know that.

  • Rwlawoffice

    So does the federal constitution not apply in the state of Washington? Actually, this lorist had served the homosexual community for years, even this couple. She just would not use her talents to support same sex marriage on religious grounds.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    “the customer should have gone to a different florist if she didn’t like how that florist ran her business” is the same language that was used to defend segregation. Back when their were whites only signs on doors. Back when you could pick and choose who you could serve, which is what you are advocating. Even you could can understand that simple comparison. Don’t be obtuse.
    Once again….a florist is NOT a fucking church.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    She’s not supporting same sex marriage on way or another. She’s selling flowers. A florist is not a church any more than a pizza place or a barber shop. How do you not understand that?

  • Jim Guillory

    “The fact is students in this country have a constitutional right to religious freedom which includes the freedom not to have their money be used for things that they don’t agree with.”
    That statement is simply not true. In a republic the elected officials choose how to spend the public funds, and that is where the money goes. You have a right to vote for representatives who you think will spend the money as you wish, but you have voted you don’t get to pick and choose budget items. You can’t withhold your tax money from the military budget or school lunch programs or foreign aid just because you don’t like how it is spent.
    I don’t know the specifics of how TAMU handles this, but at most universities there is a student activity or student services fee that goes to funding club and activities. Everyone pays the same fee even if they don’t participate. Why didn’t the bill also allow students to withhold funding from the Chapel, or Baptist Student union, or fellowship of christian athletes? This bill was intended as an insult to GLBT students, not an act of religious freedom.

  • rwlawoffice

    There are several cases that discuss this. Look up Christian Legal Society. In CLS v. Martinez, the Supreme Court ruled against the CLS without ruling on the individual students rights of association or religious freedom, but did hold that the all comers policy was not unreasonable.

  • rwlawoffice

    Not at all. Your attempt to equate the two fails. One is behavior (marriage) and the other is an innate characteristic (race). As for being obtuse, why bring up segregation if you were not being subtle about calling this florist a bigot. Did you forget the facts that she served the very same customer routinely for other occasions that did not conflict with her religious beliefs?

    I don’t understand the fascination with the curse words in a civil discussion, but it happens alot here.

    Religious freedom is not limited to church. I understand that atheists want to limit it to Sunday mornings in a church, but the constitution is broader than that.

  • rwlawoffice

    What I understand is that the constitutional right to freedom of religion is not limited to Sunday morning church services.

  • decathelite

    When a Christian is refused a service, or their ability to practice their religion, they have every right to challenge it in court. Many times the ACLU has come to their defense.


  • decathelite

    If you truly believe the state law is unconstitutional, fight it. I dare you. No really, I dare you to challenge the attorney general on this one. I’m completely serious.

  • Joshua Katz

    Actually, it’s eminently workable – what isn’t workable is the midway point where some people (Christians) have the right to opt out of supporting some groups. Taken to it’s extreme, though, just don’t charge student fees, and, instead of bake sales, let groups charge for membership – students can use the money they saved by not paying student fees. Some would end up paying more – those who used more, and some would end up paying less – those who used less. So what? Neither funding method is necessarily better than the other. The problem comes when we have what this group wants – their groups funded, groups they dislike not funded. Then it’s similar to our economy as a whole – capitalism for you and me, socialism for the big banks.

  • decathelite

    If I want to start a university club called “Nude Movie Night”, where we all get naked and watch movies once a week, I must allow that anyone can join. However, I cannot force anyone else to remove their clothes while we watch movies. Nor can I force anyone to watch movies that may offend them.

    Once I start forcing others to participate in things that violate their beliefs as a requirement to be in the group, I should no longer receive funding for my group.

    When you require others to sign a statement of faith (in order to be a voting member of the group), you exclude those who the statement of faith applies to.

  • Question Everything

    I looked it up – they’re required to accept people who don’t share their faith, which is quite different from giving up their faith to continue.

  • KOB

    True. And it is also true that the difference between many Christians and WBC are mainly in presentation; they share the same essential doctrine. However, I was still proud of my fellow Aggies that day. And it still gives me reason to hope. There are plenty of current Aggies that do support LGBT equality and that number will grow (statistics show that younger people are the largest group of people who are affirming and the numbers are growing all the time. They will grow at A&M, as well). More reason to hope: http://www.dallasvoice.com/proud-aggie-10144708.html

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    I love it when bigots come here and argue for discrimination, and then clutch their pearls over a few f-bombs.

    Nobody believes you know anything about the Constitution.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    What you don’t understand is your religious rights end where the rights of others begin.

  • Rwlawoffice

    If I lived in Washington state and she was my client I would be pleased to argue this case

  • Rwlawoffice

    Actually, I have forgotten more about the constitution than you have ever known. Pulling out the bigot canard and cursing shows you don’t know what you are talking about.