“We now affirm.”
With those words last month, the U.S. Supreme Court backed a lower court’s decision that public universities cannot ban religious worship and discussions from their buildings. The ruling on Widmar v. Vincent—eight to one in favor of an evangelical student group—may affect school regulations at 40 percent of America’s universities. It basically means religious groups should be given the same access to university facilities as nonreligious groups.
Christian attorneys lauded the Widmar decision as a major victory for religious liberty. “By striking a blow for government neutrality toward religion, Widmar helps to restore the First Amendment as a shield protecting religious liberty rather than a sword attacking it,” said Lynn Buzzard, executive director of the Christian Legal Society.
James Smart, attorney for the students who brought the suit, said 4 out of 10 universities will now have to change regulations that discriminate against religious student groups. Some universities, for example, charge fees for use of rooms by religious groups while allowing nonreligious groups to meet free.
The decision probably will not make a difference on public high school campuses, where Bible studies have been banned. That is because a week after the Widmar decision, the Court refused to hear an appeal dealing with banning of religious worship in high schools. Smart suspects the Widmar decision could bear on home Bible studies, which have been prohibited because homes are not zoned as places of worship. Widmar may be used to argue “you can’t have different regulations based on the content of discussions,” Smart said. Only time, and a head-spinning array of court ...1
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