The University of Virginia has reversed a decision of VA student council to refuse to recognize a conservative student organization because it catered to conservative students. This absurd decision was based, according to Ty Zirkle, UVA student council’s vice president for organizations, on a strained reading of state law. The decision was in sharp contrast to other groups which cater to shared viewpoints. The concern should be with the selective application of this perceived rule by the student council.
The Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) was barred from renewing its chapter due the requirement that members affirm the founding principles contained in the group’s “Sharon Statement” which was viewed as violating discrimination based on “political affiliation.” That statement is posted below. It was a statement adopted on September 11, 1960 by 100 young conservatives gathered at the home of William F. Buckley. It became the touchstone for young conservatives.
VA Code Ann. 23.1-400 states the opposite of what the students claimed as state law:
§ 23.1-400. Student organizations; rights and recognition.
A. To the extent allowed by state and federal law, a religious or political student organization may determine that ordering the organization’s internal affairs, selecting the organization’s leaders and members, defining the organization’s doctrines, and resolving the organization’s disputes are in furtherance of the organization’s religious or political mission and that only persons committed to that mission should conduct such activities.
B. No public institution of higher education that has granted recognition of and access to any student organization or group shall discriminate against any such student organization or group that exercises its rights pursuant to subsection A.
Nevertheless, in November, the YAF was told to remove the Sharon Statement requirement and a bylaw that lets its executive board revoke membership on any basis. YAF however has long denied that it had an affiliation with any particular party but was based on a shared ideological commitment. It is precisely the type of ideological group that a university should cherish. I love students assembling around shared view whether it is communism or environmentalism or evangelicalism or conservatism. They all deepen the debate on campus and enrich student life. Moreover, the position of the students stood in contrast with religious and other groups that restrict members to shared beliefs as protected under Virginia law.
The reversal is welcomed but the controversy should lead to a greater focus application of such rules for content-based speech discrimination.
The Sharon Statement
In this time of moral and political crises, it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths.
We, as young conservatives, believe:
That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;
That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;
That the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice;
That when government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty;
That the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power;
That the genius of the Constitution—the division of powers—is summed up in the clause that reserves primacy to the several states, or to the people, in those spheres not specifically delegated to the Federal government;
That the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government, and that it is at the same time the most productive supplier of human needs;
That when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation; that when it takes from one man to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both;
That we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies;
That the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties;
That the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace; and
That American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?