The California State University (CSU) system derecognized a campus Christian club and its statewide chapters at the start of the semester on the grounds of religious discrimination, denying them access to university funding, campus meeting space and tabling at campus events.
The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship requires group leaders to identify as Christian and sign a statement of faith, which resulted in their exclusion from state resources at all 23 CSU campuses. Regular members do not have to sign the statement, according to SF State alumna and InterVarsity staff member Carrie Detrick.
CSU Director of Public Affairs Mike Uhlenkamp recommended that the club instead select leaders with skills tests or a requirement to attend a certain number of meetings.
“We’ve given them a year to address this issue with their bylaws,” Uhlenkamp said. “This (recognition by the CSU system) is a process that takes place every fall. Any time you discuss religion, people get fired up.”
According to the group’s website, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was recognized and funded on state college campuses for most of its 76-year existence. As of the previous spring semester, they had 949 chapters on 616 campuses nationwide that continue to focus on Bible study, community service and social events.
“All we know is when we went to go for recognition, we were told we had to follow the executive order,” Detrick said. “It feels like we’re not recognized as part of the campus community.”
Then-chancellor Charles B. Reed issued an executive order in 2011 to prevent state-funded groups from using religious criteria as membership or leadership selection.
Other religious clubs at SF State have policies that open their doors to members and leaders of other religions does not affect their core values.
“We only have leaders that demonstrate commitment and passion,” said Rachel Nilson, an advisor to the Jewish club Hillel. “We don’t have requirements other than being a student.”
Hillel has many members in leadership positions who do not identify as Jewish, according to Nilson. It does not affect their success as a Jewish cultural club.
Russell Jeung, the advisor to several other Christian clubs at SF State, including the Asian American Christian Fellowship, LIGHT on Campus and Young Life College, said that while the InterVarsity decision worried some of the clubs’ members, they follow the open membership policy required by the state.
“They go by selection process and are picked by vote,” Jeung said of the clubs he advises. “It’s based on who members think would best serve the organization.”
Without official recognition and University funding, InterVarsity’s regular meetings now require a search for empty classrooms, according to club member Cassie Hodges. Since they are no longer allowed to table at campus events, members now attach banners to their backpacks to attract new recruits.
“We decided to go on with it,” Hodges said. “We could have just given up and said it’s too difficult. It’s hard not having the support from school.”