JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Springfield Republican Rep. Elijah Haahr filed legislation today aimed directly at Missouri’s higher education institutions and their treatment of religious student groups.
The bill, HB104, would prohibit institutions of higher education from adopting “all comers” policies. Such policies, adopted by some universities around the country, prohibit officially recognized student groups from excluding members based on their status or beliefs. Once adopted, a religiously based student group would not receive official university recognition if it excluded membership eligibility for fellow students based on their religious belief.
Haahr’s bill stems from a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. A student group, the Christian Legal Society, sued the University of California – Hastings College of Law when the university adopted an “all comers” policy and required the group to admit gay students and permit them to run for leadership positions. The group sued, arguing that the public university simply couldn’t restrict it’s right to free speech or association.
The Court ruled ultimately in favor of the Hastings policy, calling it a “constitutionally sound” policy for student groups. Since the ruling, 7 states have adopted policies to prohibit universities to pass such policies.
“[All comers] policies are well-intended, because we obviously don’t want discriminatory groups, but the downfall here is that you end up simply excluding minority viewpoints,” Haahr said.
Haahr said that within the right of free association is the implicit right to not associate with a person or group. He posed the hypothetical of two student religious groups, one a smaller group for Jewish students, and another larger organization for Baptists.
Baptist students, under “all comers” policies, could not be prohibited from joining the Jewish student group and, in fact, could elect their own members to leadership if they have enough votes and effectively disband the Jewish student group.
“If we’re talking about a sincere religious belief, then it’s reasonable for those groups to say that leaders of those groups must subscribe to certain specific biblical tenants,” Haahr said.
While “all comers” policies technically apply to all student groups and organizations, religious groups are the only ones that have been involved in legal battles over the policy. Haahr’s bill would only apply to “all comers” policies as they relate to religious student groups.
“Religious belief, the freedom of that belief, is an inherent pillar of this country,” Haahr said. “I’m not out here standing up for fraternities because nobody is trying to bring them down, and Greek life isn’t an inherent pillar of this country.”
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.