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Shippensburg University is reviewing Alliance Defense Fund allegations

The First Amendment advocacy group says the school violated a 2004 settlement in its student handbook

The First Amendment advocacy group says the school violated a 2004 settlement in its student handbook

May 16, 2008|By DON AINES

SHIPPENSBURG, PA. -- Shippensburg University has issued a statement saying it is reviewing allegations made in a federal lawsuit claiming the university violated a 2004 settlement with a First Amendment advocacy group, but an official with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) Center said the suit is moving forward.

On May 7, the ADF filed suit in federal court claiming, in part, that the university was using language in the student handbook Swataney, which violated the 2004 settlement.

"The settlement required the university to change some wording in the student Code of Conduct preamble and replace the existing diversity statement with a statement on the University's commitment to education diversity," the university statement reads.

The review of allegations did find that the 2004-05 issue of Swataney contained the corrected language, but subsequent issues "inadvertently reverted to the former diversity statement."

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"The student government, an incorporated entity separate from the university, publishes Swataney. Upon discovery of the error, the incorrect material was immediately removed from the student government's Web site," the statement read.

The plaintiffs in the case are the Christian Fellowship of Shippensburg University and its president, Matthew Long. According to the suit, the fellowship was informed by Student Senate Vice President Ray Ryan in October that its membership and leadership provisions needed to be changed.

"Clubs NEED to be open to everyone regardless of religious background," according to a portion of an e-mail that Ryan sent the group. Ryan sent a later e-mail stating the club was discriminatory in reserving some leadership positions for men, according to the suit.

The fellowship's "recognition status" was revoked by the Student Senate in December, a decision later reversed after consultation with the university's legal counsel, according to the suit.

"While the suit is against the university and the student government, the alleged incident was a disagreement between two student organizations and did not involve the university," the university statement read. "The result of the disagreement was a public statement in support of the United States Constitution and reaffirmation of recognition of the student organization by the student government."

"At no time since the 2004 agreement has the university violated the rights of any individual for expressing themselves or their beliefs," the statement read.

"Shippensburg cannot hide behind its own students to continue unfair treatment of Christian students at its own campus," said Steven H. Aden, ADF senior legal counsel. However, the statement showed the university "is moving in the right direction," he said.

Before the suit is withdrawn, the university will have to document it has ended all forms of discrimination, "whether under speech codes or coerced association," Aden said.

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