Idaho Senate Passes Bill Favoring Faith-Based University Clubs

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The Idaho Senate today approved a measure that would keep the doors open at public universities to religious groups that require their leaders to swear allegiance to tenets of faith.

"We heard that one of our public universities was intending to exclude these groups," said Nampa Republican. Sen. Curt McKenzie, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1078. "This is a real issue. It's a live issue. One of our universities is changing its policy."

But McKenzie's bill would require universities to afford the same benefits—such as access to student-fee funds and use of school meeting facilities—to groups such as Campus Crusade and InterVarsity as any other student club.

But Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett argued against SB 1078.

"I think most of us embrace the practice of open student clubs of all varieties on our camuses," said Stennett. "But these groups already elect leaders that adhere to their beliefs. It would be counterintuitive for them to select someone who is not like-minded. This doesn't make any sense. By naming religious groups and carving out a special benefit, we're granting a special status for religious groups over hundreds of other nonreligious groups. I think that's a bit disturbing."

Boise Democratic Sen. Branden Durst, who said he was once a member of the faith-based clubs, said he supported the bill.

"This is a problem," said Durst. "The reality is that these clubs have national relationships that require their leaders to sign oaths of belief."

But Boise Democratic Sen. Les Bock said the bill was inviting a lawsuit.

"This bill makes me really uncomfortable," said Bock. "We have to be careful when we go in this direction. This little incursion is dangerous and this meddlesome activity is something we should reject."

Caldwell Republican Sen. Jim Rice pushed back, saying, "The Founding Fathers would have been appalled that we even had to have this kind of discussion. This is a good bill, an appropriate bill. And it actually avoids litigation."

Ultimately, the Senate voted 30-5 in favor of the bill, sending the measure to the Idaho House for its consideration.

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