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Newsletter > September 2006 > "CHRISTIAN FRATERNITY’S LAWSUIT IS DISMISSED AFTER REGAINING OFFICIAL RECOGNITION"
CHRISTIAN FRATERNITY’S LAWSUIT IS DISMISSED AFTER REGAINING OFFICIAL RECOGNITION
Brian Wais, Manley Burke*
A lawsuit brought by Alpha Iota Omega in the United States District Court against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been dismissed.1 As previously reported in Fraternal Law, AIO, a Christian fraternity, filed the lawsuit in response to UNC’s denial of official recognition as a result of the fraternity’s refusal to follow the University’s non-discrimination policy. The federal judge’s dismissal of the lawsuit stemmed from UNC modifying the challenged non-discrimination policy and subsequently granting the fraternity official recognition.
Under the old UNC non-discrimination policy, all officially recognized student organizations were required to agree to open their membership to students “without regard to age, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, veteran status, or sexual orientation.” AIO came into conflict with this policy by objecting to the portions dealing with religion and sexual preferences. AIO argued that forcing it to adhere to these policies would bring it into conflict with the fraternity’s fundamental beliefs, goals, and standards of conduct, which are based on its Christian faith. AIO’s refusal caused UNC to withdraw the fraternity’s official recognition, which led to the lawsuit. Based on the rights of freedom of association, freedom of speech, and free exercise of religion, the lawsuit sought official recognition for the AIO at UNC without following the non-discrimination policy.
While the lawsuit was pending, UNC officials modified the challenged non-discrimination policy to offer official recognition to “student organizations that select their members on the basis of a commitment to a set of beliefs.” After this change, AIO applied for and received official recognition from UNC. In light of these developments, the federal court held that AIO’s claims were rendered moot because the official recognition sought by the lawsuit had been granted. Consequently, the lawsuit was dismissed. AIO had maintained that the lawsuit should be allowed to continue by arguing that the change in the non-discrimination policy had not afforded the fraternity sufficient protection. The federal judge in the case, however, disagreed. In his view, the revised policy adequately balanced the interests of the University in fostering diversity and discouraging discrimination with AIO’s interests in organizing with like-minded Christian students. The judge noted that under the new non-discrimination policy UNC is now required to “allow all student organizations to limit membership according to shared beliefs and common goals, regardless of whether they are social, religious or political, and regardless of whether they are in line with the University’s beliefs and goals.”
1 Alpha Iota Omega Christian Fraternity v. Moeser, United States District Court, Middle District of North Carolina, Case No. 1:04CV00765.
* The author was a summer law clerk at Manley Burke