Organizations may be able to restrict membership under legislation

13 Feb , 2013  

Legislation passed recently by both houses of the General Assembly would allow political and religious groups at public colleges to restrict membership to people who are “committed” to that organization’s mission. 

The potential law was crafted to ensure that political groups don’t have to accept members from another party and so religious organizations can “expect that their leadership will share the group’s core commitments,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, sponsor of the Senate bill.

“It’s pretty simple: A Democratic club shouldn’t have to accept a Republican as a member and members of a religious group should be able to expect that their leadership will share the group’s core commitments,” Obenshain said.

The Senate passed its version of the legislation, Senate Bill 1074, on Feb. 5 with a vote 22 to 18. A similar bill in the House of Delegates, House Bill 1617, passed the week before with a vote of 80 to 19.

Critics of the legislation worry the bills are an attempt to let campus groups discriminate against minorities, gays and others. Such groups often receive funding from the public colleges where they reside.

Beth Tipton, director and campus minister of the Wesley Foundation at UVa-Wise, said the legislation wouldn’t affect her Methodist organization.

“The Wesley campus ministry welcomes all persons regardless of any church affiliation,” she said, though she noted that students in leadership positions at Wesley are required to be Christian.

“I do not think the legislation will impact the Wesley group on our campus, but I do suspect some campus ministry groups will utilize the legislation to limit membership to those who agree with their religious values,” Tipton said.

Gov. Bob McDonnell has not indicated whether he approve the legislation.

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