The case involves Ratio Christi, a Christian apologetics club whose name means "the reason for Christ." The club allows anybody to be a member, but it does require its leaders to be professed Christians.
"That's the whole purpose of the group – to promote apologetics and to give a reason for Christ," explains attorney Caleb Dalton of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal group representing Ratio Christi in a federal lawsuit.
Last fall, the group was denied recognized status at the University of Houston-Clear Lake because of the leadership requirement. (See earlier story)
"We were able to get a policy change at the university … so that they no longer discriminate against student groups that require that their leaders actually believe what the student group is all about," Dalton tells AFN. "We're thankful that we were able to settle that matter. The university agreed to change its policies [and] to pay damages to the group and pay attorneys' fees."
ADF reports that the following language was added to the school's Student Organization Handbook:
"A student organization may limit officers to those members who subscribe to the tenets of that organization."
According to the ADF attorney, this isn't the only time Ratio Christi groups have run into a situation where they've been denied status.
"That [denial] means that they can't invite speakers, reserve space, or host events just like all the other groups are allowed to," says Dalton. "We've seen this across the country where other universities are discriminating against Christian groups simply because they require their leadership to be Christian.
"You can imagine … if the College Republicans were required to have a Democrat be their leader or vice versa; or a Muslim group was required to have a Jewish student as a leader or vice versa."
Dalton points out that many groups form around specific ideas – and the First Amendment protects their right to do so, he emphasizes.