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by Leah Wankum
Managing Editor

State legislation being debated on the Senate and House floors would allow religious organizations at public colleges and universities to withhold membership based on the organizations’ beliefs.

Rep. Denny Hoskins, of Warrensburg, said the bills in the House and the Senate are designed to protect religious student groups.

“What they’re trying to do is prohibit universities from taking any action that denies a student association the ability to infiltrate any other student association,” Hoskins said. “It prohibits universities and colleges from discriminating against a religious student with respect to such benefit.”

Sen. David Pearce, also of Warrensburg, said the bills deal with a religious organization’s ability to limit their members based on the organization’s religious beliefs or standards of conduct.

“What we’ve seen in other states is that there might be an organization that has this part of their membership as certain regulation or certain tenet of membership, and someone will try to go against that,” Pearce said. “They’ll try to infiltrate the group and do damage to the group. It basically gives these organizations the right to deny benefits to meet the requirements of that group.”

Pearce said if these bills become law, they would allow organizations to limit their members and define membership eligibility if the organization needs to.

“I think that there might be a case where – that by limiting – they were discriminating against certain individuals, and by putting this in statute, it does give them some protection,” Pearce said.

Mike McCormick, director of the Newman Center, which is supported by Catholic Campus Outreach, said he thinks it’s unfortunate that people feel like this law is necessary.

“It just seems like common sense,” McCormick said. “That’s not a charitable way to act toward your neighbor.”

However, he doesn’t think religious student groups exclude people at UCM.

“I can’t speak for the Muslims, but we would never exclude anybody because they weren’t Catholic,” McCormick said. “We don’t look at people as groups. We look at people as individuals. Each individual has worth and is loved by Christ.”

McCormick said he’s had students who aren’t Catholic but still enjoy spending time at the Newman Center with other Catholic students.

“Each individual person is an individual person,” he said. “If that person is willing to come here and promote what the church teaches, they’re welcome here. It doesn’t matter what group they belong to.”

Spencer Payne, president of the Secular Student Alliance, said he wouldn’t approve of the legislation, but it also doesn’t apply to him because he isn’t religious.

“I think it could be good but at the same time, it also could be abused as well,” Payne said. “(Religious organizations) should be allowed to allow only ones they approve, but it could be abused. They could shun people they don’t want to be a part of their organization.”

Payne said he thinks people should be able to sort out membership issues without having a law to enforce them.

“I thought that it would allow for discrimination with organizations, saying people can’t join or participate,” he said. “I definitely feel that all organizations need to be protected, especially groups like mine that are out on campus and are vocal.

“I think equality for all groups and all religions, creeds, whatever, should be more fought for, but if this law is a segue into equality, then it could be good.”

Similar legislation is also pending on the Kansas Senate and House floors.


Click here for more stories by Leah Wankum. Follow her on Twitter @leahwankum.

 

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