May 8, 2015

​Study: Americans Wary of Punishing Student Religious Groups

 ©2015 Baptist Press

hile disputes over who can lead student religious groups continue to be debated, few Americans appear to want groups punished for requiring their leaders to hold specific beliefs or practices, a LifeWay Research study shows.

A new study from the Nashville-based research group finds mixed opinions about whether student religious groups should be allowed to mandate leaders' beliefs or, because of their religious beliefs, restrict LGBT members from leadership roles. Yet nearly 7 in 10 say colleges should not withhold funding or meeting space from such organizations.

The issue has emerged in recent years on college campuses from California to Maine. Student groups say their belief statements and ethics define their identity. College officials -- citing what are known as "all-comers" rules -- insist groups and their leadership be open to all students, no matter what.

Groups at more than two dozen campuses have lost their official standing over this disagreement. One dispute, at the Hastings College of Law in California, went before the U.S. Supreme Court. Lawmakers in several states have proposed laws that would bar colleges from applying "all-comers" rules to on-campus religious groups.

Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said, "Recent university restrictions on beliefs and practices of student group leadership are a sharp contrast to admissions offices that celebrate pluralism, residential programs that encourage diversity, and schools that encourage new thinking. Oddly, these 'all-comers' policies lead to the idea that even Oscar Mayer should be allowed to lead the Vegetarian Club."

LifeWay Research asked 1,000 Americans to respond to this statement in a phone survey: "Should student religious organizations, recognized by publicly funded colleges, be allowed to require their leaders to hold specific beliefs?"

About half (48 percent) say no. A similar number (46 percent) say yes.

Evangelicals (51 percent) are more likely to say groups can require specific beliefs than those with no religious preference (33 percent).

LifeWay Research asked a similar question about student groups at private colleges. A little more than half (51 percent) of Americans say those groups should be allowed to have required beliefs. Forty-four percent say they should not. 

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