Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Why Limit Religious Liberty in the Stimulus Bill?


So the economy loses 598,000 jobs in January, the worst performance since 1974, and part of the solution–at least according to Congress–is to limit the access of student religious clubs to campus buildings. The Higher Education Modernization, Renovation, and Repair section of the bloated stimulus bill states that none of the billions appropriated to refurbish university facilities may be allocated for any building that is “(i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or school department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission.”

Does this mean that if stimulus funds are used to repair old wiring in a building, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship or Campus Crusade for Christ groups can no longer meet there after hours? Under the literal reading of the bill, it looks like it–though that very building could still be used by College Republicans, College Democrats, PETA, the Sierra Club, libertarians, chess clubs, various ethnic organizations, and virtually anyone else . . . so long as they are not engaging in “sectarian instruction or religious worship.”

Such a limitation looks a lot like invidious discrimination, and if applied in this manner is plainly unconstitutional. Almost 28 years ago, the Supreme Court held that universities that open facilities for use by a wide variety of student groups cannot close those facilities to religious organizations. According to the Court, the Establishment Clause does not trump the student religious group’s First Amendment right to viewpoint-neutral access to the university’s classrooms and other facilities. This has been affirmed again and again, all the way down to the elementary-school level.

So why place this language in the bill? Why issue an open invitation to federal litigation?


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