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Student organizations must keep USF policies in mind

Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 01:11

A Christian student organization at USF, Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, lost its Activity and Service (A&S) funding last week after the organization removed a student from a leadership position in response to her coming out as bisexual.

The group lost nearly $4,000 in funding because Student Government (SG) requires all organizations that receive student-paid A&S funding to be "open and available to all students to attend and become members regardless of race, color, marital status, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age or sexual orientation," under Statute 802.1 of the SG Constitution.

While they allowed the student, Elizabeth Gutheim-Bryant, to maintain membership status and continue attending meetings, her demotion was motivated by her sexual orientation, and SG was within its right to enforce its non-discriminatory policy.

The incident put Chi Alpha in an unfortunate position, which other student organizations, not just Christian ones, can learn from. On the one hand, Chi Alpha, as a Christian group, supports a certain set of beliefs and values and it is not unreasonable for the group to expect its leaders, as representatives of the organization, to adhere to those beliefs. On the other hand, removing Bryant meant running afoul of USF policies.

If the organization had known beforehand that Bryant was bisexual, she likely would not have been made a leader in the first place, just as a feminist group would not elect or appoint a sexist leader, and an atheist group would not accept a religious leader. The fact that Bryant was already in a leadership position when the group discovered she did not adhere to their beliefs, namely that homosexuality is a sin, put Chi Alpha in a catch-22 situation: Allowing her to stay would compromise their beliefs but removing her would be labeled discrimination.

While all A&S-funded organizations should be open to everyone, there is always an implied exclusivity: members join because they agree with what the organization stands for, whether it's environmental protection, bike riding or Christianity. Organizations expect members and potential leaders to agree with those stances.

This is seldom a problem, as religious students, for example, wouldn't be likely to apply for membership in an atheist group. Bryant, however, considers herself a Christian and apparently did not think her beliefs, namely that homosexuality is not a sin, were incompatible with Chi Alpha's.

However, it is hard to believe she didn't know Chi Alpha adhered to the traditional Christian view toward homosexuality. It was not a secret. Chi Alpha, a national campus ministry group, is associated with the Assemblies of God denomination, which states on its website that the church "is called to be faithful to God's Word in all things. For this reason the Assemblies of God opposes homosexuality and the gay lifestyle, recognizing such as sin. But we encourage all members to reach out in love to homosexuals, extending to them the grace that leads us all to Christ's forgiveness."

It is SG's right to determine which organizations should receive funding. But to avoid conflict in the future, student groups such as Chi Alpha would benefit from more thorough vetting processes for potential leaders.

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