On June 1, the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), joined a diverse group of U.S. religious and legal leaders in writing to the U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, about the need to preserve two federal regulations, 34 C.F.R. §§ 75.500(d) and 76.500(d), that impact religious freedom at public universities.
According to the Federal Register, the regulations state that a public institution “shall not deny to any student organization whose stated mission is religious in nature and that is at the public institution any right, benefit, or privilege that is otherwise afforded to other student organizations at the public institution (including but not limited to full access to the facilities of the public institution, distribution of student fee funds, and official recognition of the student organization by the public institution) because of the religious student organization’s beliefs, practices, policies, speech, membership standards, or leadership standards, which are informed by sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The letter to Cardona notes that, even with existing protections, “student groups on some college and university campuses are denied the right to require that their leadership affirm the religious convictions of the organizations.” As a result, the groups may be denied leadership, which can in turn make it difficult or impossible for them to carry out functions as basic as reserving on-campus meeting space.
“Denying recognition to these groups because of their sincerely held religious beliefs is wrong,” write the signatories of the letter. “We urge you to preserve the legal protections provided in 34 C.F.R. §§ 75.500(d) and 76.500(d) for individual students and religious student organizations so that students of all faiths will continue to feel welcome on their public college campuses.”
Commenting on his decision to sign the letter, Harrison said, “The situation on some university campuses today reminds me of something the great Lutheran Hermann Sasse wrote in 1932 in Germany. Paraphrasing it for our day, it’s quite appropriate. We’re not much interested in whether university administrations give their support to Christianity. But in light of the Bill of Rights — which guarantees free speech, freedom of assembly and the free exercise of religion — we would like to know whether the church is to be permitted to preach the Gospel. Whether legal or not, we will continue to do so.”
Posted June 4, 2021