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Newsletter > September 2020 > "Fighting to Defend Freedom of Association Rights for Fraternity Member is Not New"
Fighting to Defend Freedom of Association Rights for Fraternity Member is Not New
Tim Burke, Fraternal Law Partners, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue University adopted the following rule:
No student is permitted to join or be connected as a member or otherwise with any so-called Greek or other college secret society; and as a condition of admission to the University or promotion therein, each student is required to give a written pledge that he or she will observe this regulation. A violation of this regulation and pledge forfeits the right of any student to class promotion at the end of the year and to an honorable dismissal.
Yes, that rule was adopted. And Purdue attempted to impose that on its students—in 1881.
Thomas Hawley, a 19-year-old member of Sigma Chi,was presented with a written pledge he was required to sign in order to be readmitted to Purdue. The pledge stated:
I do hereby state upon my honor that . . .when I received an honorable admission from Purdue University, I was not a member of any so-called Greek fraternity or other college secret society, and at the time I connected myself with a chapter of the Sigma Chi Fraternity, I did not intend returning to Purdue University. I do solemnly promise that I will disconnect myself as an active member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity during my connection with Purdue University.
Hawley refused to sign and challenged the regulation in court. The Trial Court upheld Purdue’s demurrer to the Complaintand dismissed the case.
The case went to the Indiana Supreme Court.The Court, with the exception of one dissenting Justice, ruled in Hawley’s favor. It recognized that the regulation
[C]arried with it the implication that membership in the Sigma Chi Fraternity might properly be treated as a disqualification for admission as a student in the University, a doctrine wholly inadmissible in its application to Purdue University or to any of the other public schools or colleges of the State.
Id. at 287.
Continuing,the Court made it clear that Purdue had overstepped its authority:
If membership in any of the so-called Greek fraternities may be treated as a disqualification for admission as a student in a public school, then membership in any other secret or similar society may be converted into a like disqualification, and in this way discriminations might be made against large classes of the inhabitants of the State in utter disregard of the fundamental ideas upon which our entire educational system is based.
According to the Court, Purdue’s prohibition was “both ultravires and palpably unreasonable, and hence inoperative and void and that the pledge tendered to Hawley was one which the faculty had no legal right to demand as a condition of his admission.”Id. at 288.
The headnote to the case summarizing the Court’s finding has clear application to any public university that might be thinking about the same or similar regulations today:
The Board of Trustees and faculty of Purdue University cannot make membership in a Greek letter fraternity or other college secret society, a disqualification for admission as a student in the University or require, as a condition of such admission that an applicant who may be a member of such society, shall sign a pledge to disconnect himself from such society during his connection with the University, and admission, refused for such cause, may be enforced by mandate against the trustees and faculty.
Without a doubt, the need to stand up to defend freedom of association rights is not new. Thankfully, today more legal tools exist to defend those rights. But doing so still takes the courage and determination demonstrated by Thomas Hawley in his commitment to Sigma Chi.
Fraternal Law thanks Beth Stathos, General Counsel of Chi Omega,for bringing this case to light.
A demurrer would today be referred to as a motion to dismiss.
State exrel.Stallard v. White, 82Ind. 278(1882).