Kansas Senate bill would allow religious discrimination by student organizations

Jordan Edwards, campus staff member with Student Mobilization, gives a message to attendees and students at a weekly meeting focused on spiritual development and leadership. (Ryan Manring | The Collegian)

The Student Governing Association passed a resolution in opposition to Kansas Senate Bill 175, which would allow college student groups with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to discriminate toward membership.

Senate Bill 175, which passed the Senate last year, will allow religious student organizations to discriminate in their membership based on the following stipulations: Members must adhere to the organization’s sincerely held religious beliefs, comply with those beliefs and the associated conduct and be committed to furthering the organization’s religious missions, according to the Wichita Eagle article “Protections for religious student groups pass Kansas Senate.”

Jessica Van Ranken, junior in political science and student body president-elect, said she was glad SGA passed a resolution in opposition.

“I think it sends a strong message about what Kansas State University students value,” Van Ranken said.

The bill was passed into the Kansas House of Representatives Committee on Federal and State Affairs on April 2, 2015. It never got out of committee but could be looked at again this year, according to Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka.

Abigail Newton, junior in communication studies, said she is on the leadership team for Student Mobilization, a religious student organization also known as STUMO, and a leader on their summer project, called Kaleo.

“I agree with the resolution proposed by SGA because you don’t want to opt anyone out of any opportunity to be involved on campus,” Newton said.

The bill would prohibit state universities from taking action against student religious groups that require members to adhere to the group’s religious beliefs, according to the Wichita Eagle article.

“It struck me as a bill with no foundation,” Kelly said. “I don’t know any groups that have been impacted by not having this bill. Usually laws are passed that have already existing problems.”

Van Ranken said she had not heard any concerns about the current situation.

“As a student I haven’t heard any concerns,” Van Ranken said. “There was a consensus from the Student Senate that we were not interested in it and focused more in opposing the bill.”

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, sponsored the bill and said it was intended to ensure religious freedom on campuses, according to the Wichita Eagle article.

“There have been no students infiltrating, and I don’t foresee that happening in the future,” Kelly said.

SGA statues also prohibit student organizations from discriminating on “the basis of age, sex, race, religious faith, national origin, physical ability or sexual orientation.”

“K-State has inclusive, non-discriminatory, diversity and family atmosphere,” Van Ranken said. “I think this resolution protects the inclusion of K-State students and shows the value of how we treat one another with respect.”

Newton said no matter what organization you are a part of, religious or non-religious, every organization has its own mission statement, so with that you can decide if you like the purpose and then decide if that is something you would like to be a part of.

“I don’t think I would run into the problem of discrimination towards membership because I wouldn’t want to join an organization that I don’t have the same values as or same beliefs,” Newton said.