In the midst of a massive news day in the War on Terror, university controversies can seem quite small (though with significant long-term effects on our culture). But if you will forgive me, I want to note a scandal brewing in Madison, Wisconsin. Today and Tuesday, I discussed the University of Wisconsin’s decision to de-recognize the Knights of Columbus and other Christian groups. The Alliance Defense Fund protested this decision, writing a letter on behalf of several concerned organizations (full disclosure: I wrote the letter to Wisconsin). In response, Wisconsin has decided to throw down the gauntlet. Rather than backing down in the face of governing legal precedent, the administration told the Associated Press that it was targeting “six to 12” additional groups.
The University is taking the position that it tightened enforcement of its nondiscrimination rules in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Wisconsin v. Southworth. This is puzzling, to say the least. Southworth holds that universities must make student activity fees available to all groups, regardless of viewpoint. How the university can transform that case into a justification for limiting the free association rights of religious groups is beyond me. In fact, Southworth is one of a long line of Supreme Court cases holding that student groups (including religious student groups) should have equal access to university recognition, university facilities, and university funding.
At the same time that the university ignores controlling law, twists Supreme Court cases into a justification for censorship, and broadcasts its intention to ban even more Christian groups, it also put out an inaccurate press release announcing an “agreement” between the university and the Knights of Columbus to “allow the formation of a broadly inclusive Registered Student Organization (RSO) in time for the fall 2006 semester.” There is no such agreement. The Knights of Columbus have not agreed with the university’s demands, and they continue to protest the university’s unlawful derecognition decision.
Stay tuned. Unless the university suddenly reverses course and agrees to comply with controlling law, this case will only get more interesting.