Scarlet Blight: Rutgers and Religious Freedom


InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a campus ministry whose goal is to establish "witnessing communities of students and faculty who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord" on college campuses. Naturally, you expect these communities’ leaders to be followers of Christ themselves.

You also expect a university that lauds diversity not to interfere with InterVarsity’s mission. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for InterVarsity members who take Exit 9 off the New Jersey Turnpike.

That exit leads to Rutgers University, a state school. There, officials proclaim that they are "committed to making diversity a way of university life." They point to the more than 350 registered student groups on campus, many of which receive "direct financial support from mandatory fees collected from each Rutgers student."

Their stated goal is to make each member "of the University community feel welcome, valued, and respected" — but not all members.

Last fall, Rutgers suspended InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship’s local chapter for violating the university’s anti-discrimination policies. How? By requiring that its leaders be committed to InterVarsity’s "Basis of Faith and Purpose."

According to the Office for Student Affairs, this is religious discrimination and disqualifies InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship from receiving financial support from the school.

After the ruling, InterVarsity moved off campus and tried to settle the matter through negotiations with university officials. When the negotiations failed, it filed suit in federal district court claiming the group’s right to freedom of speech and religion had been violated.

As a former attorney general, I can tell you that I’d rather be representing InterVarsity than Rutgers. The double standard at work here is obvious and indefensible. Other student organizations, such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance and Students for a Free Tibet, are not required to consider for leadership people who do not believe what they believe.

It is only when Christians insist on compatible leaders that it becomes discrimination. And it is not just at Rutgers. According to InterVarsity, its "right to be a recognized student group on campus has been challenged on dozens of campuses in the past decade."

While this is the first time that InterVarsity has had to sue, its struggles point to an even bigger problem: the curtailment of religious freedom on campuses across the country. That is not my conclusion; it is the conclusion of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE.

FIRE calls the "ease with which students are denied the right to associate freely among themselves, even in matters of conscience and religion," "profoundly disturbing." Just as bad, this denial of rights is usually accompanied by a "fundamentally unjust" inability to expose the denial.

In response to what is happening on college campuses across the country, FIRE has produced guides to religious liberty and the use of student fees. Both former Attorney General Ed Meese and Nadine Strossen of the ACLU have endorsed them. I suggest that you visit FIRE’s website and download this important material. And tell Christian college students you know about the guide as well.

If enough of us are aware of our rights, then perhaps groups like InterVarsity will finally be able to follow their mission — free from the need to sue for the rights everyone else takes for granted.

For further reading and information:

Learn more about Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and read its various guides online.

Learn more about the Rutgers case.

Richard N. Ostling, "InterVarsity’s insistence on conservative Christian student leaders runs afoul of college’s policies," Associated Press, January 15, 2003.

Mike Adams and Charlton Allen, "God and Man at Carolina," BreakPoint Online, January 13, 2003.

Stanley Kurtz, "Through the FIRE," Boundless, October 24, 2002.

Karla Dial, "Hijacking Student Fees," Boundless, March 6, 2003.

Alan Charles Kors, "Thought Reform 101," Reason, March 2000.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 020813, "No Conservatives Need Sign Up: Postmodernism and Academic Freedom."

BreakPoint Commentary No. 020805, "Fears and Fallacies: How to Stand Your Ground."

J. Budziszewski, How to Stay Christian in College (NavPress, 1999).


Charles Colson. "Scarlet Blight: Rutgers and Religious Freedom." BreakPoint Commentary #030325 - 03/25/2003.

From BreakPoint ® (3/25/2003), Copyright 2000, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, D.C. 20041-0500. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint ®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries ®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.


Charles Colson launched Prison Fellowship in 1976, following a seven-month prison sentence for Watergate-related crimes. Since then, Prison Fellowship has flourished into a U.S. ministry of 50,000 volunteers and has spread to more then 50 countries. Beyond his prison ministry, Colson is a Christian author, speaker, and commentator, who regularly confronts contemporary values from a biblically informed perspective. His "BreakPoint" radio commentaries now air daily across the U.S. and he has written 14 books, including Loving God, Answers to Your Kids' Questions, The Line Between Right & Wrong: Developing a Personal Code of Ethics, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, and How Now Shall We Live: A Study Guide.

Copyright © 1991- 2003 Breakpoint

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