That a bill to allow recognized student organizations at the state’s public universities and colleges to deny membership for political, religious or other reasons received Gov. Janet Napolitano’s veto was the correct result. It wasn’t, however, for the reasons the governor offered in her veto message.
Senate Bill 1153 was introduced following a controversy at Arizona State University last year involving a student group that required members to agree that homosexuality was sinful and thus abhorrent.
One objection raised to the requirement was based on the university’s offering of grants to such groups using student fees through a process administered by the student government. Such discrimination should be disallowed, ASU argued, because by law and the federal and Arizona constitutions the state itself may not discriminate.
Napolitano vetoed the bill because she said to allow these student organizations to discriminate “could lead to a host of adverse consequences,” saying that nothing in the measure would have prohibited either the football team or chess club from disallowing participation by members of certain religions.
SB1153 shouldn’t have become law for other reasons. For one, this was not a matter for the Legislature in the first place. The state constitution vests authority over the universities and community colleges in the Arizona Board of Regents and the community college district governing boards, respectively.
For another, the schools’ administrations should consider getting out of telling student groups how to organize entirely — as well as stop funding them.
Student clubs should be treated as private associations and — so long as they do not advocate or incite violence — determine membership eligibility under their First Amendment rights, just as the U.S. Supreme Court found a few years ago in allowing the private Boy Scouts of America to continue to ban gays from membership or as Scout leaders.
Of course, in exchange for removing the yoke of the state’s rules, such an organization would have to forego funding from their alma maters. Let the colleges and universities return to each student the amount he or she pays in fees for club grants, and let these groups solicit students and other benefactors directly for support.