Raleigh, N.C. — Student groups would be allowed to bar people from leadership positions if they don't hold the views the group represents, under a proposal approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee.
Senate Bill 719 would prohibit any University of North Carolina campus or state community college from denying recognition to a student group, including funding and the use of school facilities, for exercising its right to free association.
Sponsor Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watauga, said he has spoken to students statewide who feel their "freedoms of belief and mission" aren't recognized by policies that require them to accept members – and possibly have leaders – who aren't like-minded.
"We want student groups to be protected to organize according to their beliefs," Soucek said. "It goes to the religious liberties of our Constitution."
So-called "all-comers" policies were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court three years ago, but legislative staffers said the ruling allows schools to have non-discrimination policies among student groups but doesn't require them.
Policies vary across UNC campuses, staffers said, and Soucek said his bill would provide consistency and eliminate confusion among students.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said the bill is needed to protect students' First Amendment rights.
"Universities and community colleges are routinely promoting bigotry against Christian groups," Fitzgerald said, citing a 2003 case where UNC-Chapel Hill threatened to strip InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of school funding because the group demanded its leaders adhere to a Christian doctrine.
Sen. Buck Newton, R-Nash, said the idea "cuts both ways" and would allow socialist groups to keep tea party members out of leadership posts.
"We can envision numerous circumstances where an overly politically correct campus policy would infringe on the First Amendment rights of students," Newton said.
The bill passed on a voice vote and now heads to the Senate floor.