Religious organization on the chopping block

With the start of the fall semester, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is no longer an affiliated club on the Sonoma State University campus. InterVarsity is a Christian group that can be found at universities all over the country, and during the past few years has struggled to keep active at SSU. 

The group on campus has around 190 members that meet several times a week. Many of the members are of Christian faith, but there are also some exploring different types of faiths and religions to see which suit them best.

In 2011 Student Activities – Executive Order 1068 was put into action by former CSU Chancellor Charles Reed, stating: No campus shall recognize any fraternity, sorority, living group, honor society or other student organization that discriminates on the basis of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, color, age, gender, marital status, citizenship, sexual orientation or disability. 

In 2013 it was brought to new Chancellor Timothy White’s attention that this was an issue for religious groups on all CSU campuses. Executive Order 1068 also says that clubs cannot discriminate when selecting members for leadership positions.

“Due to the failure of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship to meet the California State University’s requirements of formal recognition of student organizations, specifically the open membership policy, the Center for Student Leadership, Involvement and Service at Sonoma State University was required to revoke their charter for non-compliance,” said Heather Howard Martin, the director for student leadership, involvement and service.

The executive order was called to action with diversity in mind. The chancellor and his counsel didn’t want anyone to feel discriminated against in clubs so they made this order to prevent clubs from discriminating against people that aren’t exactly like them. Since the student organizations are not allowed to discriminate against people with different religions, this has become a problem in spiritual groups on campus. 

“InterVarsity as a whole is a very diverse organization; we encourage ethnic and cultural exposure,” said Paige Drake, the social events leader of InterVarsity. “InterVarsity fosters diversity and exploration. Although our group’s constitution says that our leaders need to be Christian, a whole host of people are welcome to join our group.”

InterVarsity members believe that not just anyone should be able to lead the large or small groups held by the organization because it is imperative to have someone that truly believes in Christian values. InterVarsity asks that all members who hold leadership positions in the organization be of Christian faith. An amendment to the ordinance exempts sororities and fraternities from gender discrimination, and InterVarsity groups around California would like a similar compensation. 

“We are a faith based group, our group is based around our faith and our student leaders lead all events on campus,” said InterVarsity Area Director Jenny Klouse.

“If the leaders don’t believe in the faith, which our group is about, then [the] group ceases to be what it is about,” said Klouse in response to why the group won’t change their policy to fit the demands of the chancellor.

There have been some restrictions to what InterVarsity can and can’t do on campus, now that they are not recognized as a club. They no longer receive funding from the state and are not allowed to reserve facilities on campus for free.

The group has also been prohibited from tabling at Big Nite and is not permitted to participate in any club-related affairs. 

There have been no organized protests to challenge the order, but the members of the group started wearing what they call “banner backpacks,” which are being used in place of tabling to raise awareness for InterVarsity.

The members of InterVarsity are trying to not break any rules that the school has set, but aren’t going down without a fight.

Last year the group wanted to abide by the rules of the ordinance so they decided to vote for their leaders, and if the results were not unanimous then they would reevaluate the situation and figure out why it was not agreed upon.

“We are really trying to stay within the boundaries that the school has given us,” said Brennan Pryor, another InterVarsity leader. “The school itself has been very supportive and even sympathetic toward our situation.”  

InterVarsity members say they will keep fighting for their cause and will still hold meetings on or off campus as a group unaffiliated from the school.