Discussions continue after University of Wisconsin boots Knights of Columbus
Madison,WI, Aug. 11, 2006 (CNA) - The University of Wisconsin-Madison and theKnights of Columbus are attempting to work towards an agreement afterthe University abruptly announced that the Catholic fraternal organization would no longer be recognized on campus, due to the group’s faithfulness to their Catholic identity.
The university made its initial decision to de-recognize the Knights, according toExecutive Assistant to the Chancellor, Casey Nagy, “because the group'spolicy limiting membership to Catholic men does not comply with state law prohibiting discrimination against students on the basis ofreligion.”
The decision would bar the student chapter of theKnights from using campus spaces for meetings or social events,recruiting students at UW-sponsored events, or even using the school'sname in its title. Such unrecognized groups also cannot qualify for student fees, although the Knights of Columbus have never received funding from the school.
Following a firestorm of newsarticles, phone calls, and e-mails the university has begun discussions with Knights’ faculty advisor, Professor Mark Etzel, and the local chapter as to what might be done to allow the group to be re accepted oncampus. Late yesterday, the university retracted a press release which stated that an agreement between the school and the organization hadbeen reached.
Following the false announcement, Etzel told thepress that, in fact, no agreement had been reached because the Knightshad not agreed to changes the university wanted to make to the group'smission and membership policies. Etzel also warned the school not to release false information to the media, according to the AssociatedPress.
Patrick Korten, Vice President for Communications for theKnights of Columbus Supreme Council, told CNA that the international organization was surprised by the decision to de-recognized the university chapter and is trying to get to the bottom of the situation.“We are very concerned that a well-respected university such as theUniversity of Wisconsin would make such a decision.”
FirstAmendment rights advocate, the Alliance Defense Fund, said that the university has no legal ground to bar the Knights, based upon theirbeliefs. "Christian student groups shouldn’t be treated differently from other student organizations,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel DavidFrench. “The University of Wisconsin has decided to force campusstudent organizations to violate their core beliefs, even in the faceof controlling federal case law that bars them from doing so.”
TheADF cited a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7thCircuit in which the court reinstated the official recognized status of the student Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter at the SouthernIllinois University School of Law, after they had been de-recognizedfor the same reason. The ADF also criticized a decision by theUniversity of Wisconsin-Superior to de-recognize the InterVarsityChristian Fellowship.
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