The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill must recognize a Christian fraternity that has waged a legal fight challenging the school's nondiscrimination policy. The preliminary injunction, issued by U.S. district court judge Frank W. Bullock Jr., will remain in place until the case is resolved, possibly by trial.
Alpha Iota Omega was stripped of its status as an official campus group because the fraternity won't accept nonbelievers or gay students. The university revoked the recognition after fraternity members refused to sign the school's nondiscrimination policy. The three-member fraternity sued last year, saying UNC-CH had violated their constitutional rights to free speech, free assembly, and free exercise of
religion. Recognition gives the fraternity access to student funds and university facilities.
The preliminary injunction put the Christian fraternity "on the same footing as nonreligious organizations, which select their members on the basis of commitment," Bullock wrote in an order issued Wednesday. The merits of the case probably favor the fraternity, but the order is consistent with the university attorneys' "current unofficial interpretation of their nondiscrimination policy," Bullock wrote. The university's policy "raises significant constitutional concerns and could be violative of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution," he also wrote.
Attorneys for the fraternity were happy with the judge's preliminary injunction. "This is the first battle in the lawsuit, and we are victorious in that sense," said Joshua Carden, a staff attorney at the Alliance Defense Fund, the Arizona-based organization representing the fraternity. Carden says he hopes to force the university to rewrite its policy for recognizing student groups. "We want to see some permanent change that will keep this from happening to other groups," Carden said.
The state attorney general's office, which represents UNC-CH, said it continues to support the university's policy. "We continue to believe in the merits of the university's position and the
value of the nondiscrimination policy," the statement said. "The university's goal remains the proper and careful balancing of students' First Amendment rights with the rights guaranteed by the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions to equal protection of the laws and freedom from discrimination." (AP)