“Brad Carson does not care about you.”

Students want to see TU administration held accountable for their handling of CLS.

Organizations on campus continue to take a stance against the Christian Legal Society (CLS). The Little Blue House released a statement on April 3, expressing their disappointment in administration for validating CLS’s discriminatory policies. “As an interfaith community, we support and defend religious freedom as integral to our identity. However, denying the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ students is not freedom.” They go on to discuss the ways that Dean Griffin’s override of Student Bar Association’s (SBA) decision not to charter CLS violates both TU and SBA’s anti-discrimination policies. The Little Blue House ends the letter, saying, “The painful implication [that] value and humanity of LGBTQ+ people has once again been treated as a matter of opinion.” They also call for TU to honor “SBA’s original decision to support student organizations committed to inclusion.”

The Native American Law Student Association (NALSA) released a statement this week to declare their opposition to SBA funding CLS. They state, “We believe that funding CLS would support a dangerous precedent of allowing groups to exclude individuals under ‘special circumstances.’ ” NALSA also expresses anger with the way in which CLS was chartered. “Allowing an organization to skirt the requirements of the SBA chartering process also allows for a prospective club to perform for an audience of one — if they can convince the dean (or the President) to charter them, the rules are meaningless. There are no checks and balances, and any promise that this is a one-off situation is meaningless. In an environment that is already stacked against them, it creates a dangerous situation that should concern all minority groups.”

On March 27, SBA met with President Brad Carson and Provost George Justice in regard to CLS. CLS submitted a budget request to SBA, despite the governing body not recognizing CLS’s charter prior to the meeting. The president and provost gave SBA an ultimatum: fund CLS or SBA’s power to fund organizations would be handed over to Dean Griffin and SBA would be defunded as well as lose access to money from student activity fees.

Administration also voided SBA’s anti-discrimination clause within their constitution. The clause states, “The SBA and all SBA approved student organizations shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, religious or nonreligious affiliation, national origin, sex, gender, age, physical or mental ability, political affiliation, socioeconomic status, familial status, immigration status, gender identification, gender expression, sexual identity, or sexual orientation. The SBA shall have the power to expand these protections but never to diminish them.”

According to SBA President Stephanie Acquario, “Initially, members of SBA interpreted the clause as requiring open membership requirements for all student organizations chartered under SBA. After speaking with President Carson, it is clear that he feels any organization on TU’s campus can have exclusive membership requirements. It is his stance that CLS can exclude members of the LGBTQ community if they want to (which they are not currently interested in doing on this campus under their current leadership), that women’s law caucus is under no obligation to allow men as members (even though they currently do), and that Outlaws is currently under no obligation to allow those that are not a part of the LGBTQ community to be members.”

Acquario spoke on administration’s reaction to SBA’s refusal to recognize CLS, who said, “Dean Griffin, President Carson, and Provost Justice are of the belief that CLS can and should be chartered under SBA in the same way all other organizations are. They believe that although CLS believes that sexual relations must be in a marriage between a man and a woman, that that is a sincerely held religious belief that should be welcome and supported on TU’s campus, in the same way many Muslim groups or Orthodox Jewish groups, among many other religions, would also believe. Dean Griffin, President Carson and Provost Justice believe that having CLS on campus adds to the plurality of student organizations on campus. Religious freedom to believe that sexual relations must be in a marriage between one man and one woman vs. LGBTQ rights is a national debate in the United States. President Carson made it clear that if SBA were to not treat CLS in the same manner that they treat any other student organization chartered under them, that SBA’s ability to allocate money to organizations would be taken from them and given to the Dean of the Law School. SBA is wrestling with this question now.” She went on to state, “It is my goal as President to make sure the real interests of TU Law Students are accurately represented in student government. That being said, if a majority of students feel one way, it does not mean that the rights of a minority, whether a religious minority or an LGBTQ minority, should be taken away. Hopefully, through tolerance, debate and willingness to compromise, we can reach agreements.”

Acquario also confirmed the presence of another Christian legal society on campus called the Fellowship of Christians at Law (FCL), which was charted by unanimous vote and does not outline any membership requirements within its constitution.

I spoke with FCL President Eugene Flynn and asked for his comment on the CLS situation. He responded, “I deeply regret that I did not look more closely into what and who CLS was before getting involved with them. I decided that I would not be a part of the group once I realized that their Constitution violated the anti-discrimination clause of the SBA Constitution. I took an oath to uphold that document when I became a class delegate, and I intend to keep it, as old-fashioned as that may sound. The dishonesty and bullying behavior of people associated with CLS during this process has only confirmed that I made the right choice. Even if I wanted to be a part of it, as a Catholic I am unable to affirm their Community Life Statement, so their policy is that I’m not eligible to serve as an officer or member of the national [organization] anyway. At the beginning of January, Morgan [founder and president of CLS] and I had decided to pursue creating an independent Christian fellowship in the law school. The plan was to get a group of students together to shape a new organization, rather than impose something from the top down. Because the spring semester of the first year of law school is so busy, and because Morgan did not have any familiarity with that sort of constitutional creation process, we had not made much progress before TU administration went to SBA leadership and demand that we ignore our own policies and procedures in order to charter CLS. Oddly, they (administration) only approached Morgan after that meeting and asked if she still wanted to bring CLS to campus. When she decided to go forward with creating a CLS chapter, I decided to continue and finish the process of creating an independent organization for the support of all Christian students at the law school. That became the Fellowship of Christians at Law.”

On April 5, SBA delegates voted on the issue of allocating funds to CLS. Ultimately, the association decided not to fund CLS with 24 opposing funding, six supporting funding and two abstentions.

Immediately after the vote, there was a CLS forum hosted by Student Government Association (SGA) to gauge the opinions of the student body regarding their next steps moving forward in light of administration’s actions while handling this situation. The overwhelming response was that the administration had severely stepped out of line.

Several students spoke passionately about the administration silencing the student voice, such as Senator Elect Madison Perigo. She stated, “Brad Carson does not care about you. He cares about money… He doesn’t care about our voices.” Perigo also stated, “We’re paying our tuition dollars to go here, we shouldn’t be stomped on and treated like our voices don’t matter.”

Law student Sarah Marshall stated, “The school does not want the bad press, they don’t want to lose money, and they are scared that there will be an upset, but that’s not our problem. I think that it’s important that we say just because you’re afraid to lose donor money doesn’t mean that you can take out a part of our constitution because it’s going to prevent a Christian society from existing here, especially when the SBA has given other options.”

Students spoke on SBA’s original decision not to charter CLS as well. Senator Katie Ransom stated, “I think that SBA was right in saying we don’t want an organization on campus ― and it’s not because of their religious beliefs ― it’s because they are using those beliefs to justify hatred… I don’t think that we as a university should support people who don’t support people.”

Self-identified CLS supporter Alex Smithley spoke on the leadership exclusionary behavior that CLS has, in which leaders must affirm their Community Life Statement and thereby renounce “…sexual relations other than within a marriage between one man and one woman.” He stated, “Every single LGBTQ+ person is welcome to join… The problem is the common sense leadership requirement, and that’s where it gets tricky because CLS says they reserve the right to determine which members are eligible for leadership. But CLS as a whole does a lot of good for the community, it brings people together.”

Shortly after, Roman Shelton shared a brief personal anecdote with the floor and stated, “To include exclusion is not inclusion at all. In no way. And does not positively contribute to those around it.”

Senator Erin Shogunle commented on the precedent that chartering CLS has set, especially with the voided anti-discrimination clause and administration’s own viewpoint on membership exclusion. She stated that she could see where this can let “other organizations come in and discriminate against other people.”

Law student Jennifer Schooley commented on the argument that TU’s chapter of CLS has not discriminated against anyone and claims they have no intention of doing so. She stated, “It is disingenuous for anyone to try to assure student bodies or organizations that ‘It’s okay, regardless of what our national organization says, regardless of all of these items that are on paper, on our website, you can trust us. It’s okay, we’re not going to actually do those things.’ ”

Some students cautioned against conflating the issue of the validity of CLS with administration’s actions in silencing the student body. Isabelle Fite stated, “There are two separate issues at play here. One, whether the Student Bar Association made the right decision, and two, whether administration’s response to that decision was out of line. I would urge you to separate those two issues in your response because there’s a lot of contention over whether SBA did make the right decision. But I think even the people that disagree with that… I think most people would agree that administration has been overstepping its bounds.”

In the final stretch of the forum, SGA Vice President Asa Scott called for last comments on the next steps SGA should take. The majority of the floor wanted to see the administration held accountable for their actions and reprimanded. Students called for censorship of TU administration and/or a vote of no confidence. Students encouraged one another to stand up against administration and refuse to be silenced.

In this vein, Flynn stated, “I think that SGA’s response needs to focus on the fact that administration, in response to mischaracterization and bullying from a group of students and powerful friends, caved and overrode a decision of the students. The university violated their own policies in regard to this. There’s confusion as to the position that administration wants to take and the actual policies at the College of Law… the university says that any student organization can exclude membership on any basis and in the College of Law, doing that is a violation of the honor code and will result in discipline. As far as I know, the College of Law is not changing that.”

After the forum, I spoke with two of the attendees to gauge their thoughts on the discussion.

Smithley stated, “It is important to remember that there is a real person on the other side — for both sides. That goes for them and for me, and I care about every single person here. In America we are going to fundamentally disagree with people and I think disagreement’s okay as long as we remain respectful and I one hundred percent without any doubt will respect every single person, you can count on it.”

Perigo stated, “I’d like to just comment as a student, because I don’t want to represent my fellow constituents because I know we all have very different views. I don’t really have a comment on the specific issue of CLS and whether or not they’re valid on campus. My issue is how administration solved the CLS issue, how they went about it, how they censured our voices, how they stomped on us and said we don’t have a voice and there’s nothing we can do about it, basically. We went through several routes to be professional about it and they basically discarded their own policies, discarded our constitution and said that our voices don’t matter. And as a tuition paying student, I take an issue with that. And so, CLS is its own problem but how administration handled it is huge, I think it’s the bigger picture. And that opens the door for them to continue to do that and stomp on us and basically say that we don’t have a say and this isn’t actually student government. And I think it overflows into the undergrads because President Carson has spearheaded this whole thing. It isn’t Dean Griffin from the Law School that’s been the issue throughout this whole process, it’s been President Carson and Provost Justice. So, who’s to say that they won’t do it to the undergrads if a similar situation arises. So, that’s my biggest concern, that’s my biggest issue with it and… I just don’t want it to happen again. And I think it will.”

SGA will decide how to respond to TU administration’s treatment of the student body tomorrow at Senate, which will take place at 9 p.m. in Helmerich Hall, room 105. Students will decide what kind of reprimand the administration deserves and how to best navigate the tumultuous path ahead.

Post Author: Shelby Hiens