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Va. House approves bill allowing universities to fund student groups that discriminate

Friday, February 1, 2013
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RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday voted in favor of a bill that would allow a religious or political university student group to participate in what could be defined as discriminatory practices, and still require the school to provide funding and access to campus facilities.

The measure was approved by a vote of 80-19, with all 19 votes against the bill cast by Democrats. The bill now advances to the state Senate for committee consideration.

According Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, the measure would make LGBT students particularly vulnerable to discrimination because universities’ protections for sexual orientation are not enforceable under Virginia law.

The text of the bill, HB 1617, reads:

1. 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; and

2. 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 subdivision.

A number of Virginia universities already have non-discrimination policies in place that require student groups to be open to all students, or which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Those policies could be successfully challenged if the state passes HB 1617.

“While the First Amendment protects the right of student organizations to hold and advocate whatever ideas they choose, their discriminatory acts should not be entitled to government recognition and funding,” said Equality Virginia, in a statement.

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