.- The University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Knights of Columbus are attempting to work towards an agreement after the University abruptly announced that the Catholic fraternal organization would no longer be recognized on campus, due to the group’s faithfulness to their Catholic identity.
The university made its initial decision to de-recognize the Knights, according to Executive Assistant to the Chancellor, Casey Nagy, “because the group's policy limiting membership to Catholic men does not comply with state law prohibiting discrimination against students on the basis of religion.”
The decision would bar the student chapter of the Knights from using campus spaces for meetings or social events, recruiting students at UW-sponsored events, or even using the school's name in its title. Such unrecognized groups also cannot qualify for student fees, although the Knights of Columbus have never received funding from the school.
Following a firestorm of news articles, phone calls, and e-mails the university has begun discussions with Knights’ faculty advisor, Professor Mark Etzel, and the local chapter as to what might be done to allow the group to be reaccepted on campus. Late yesterday, the university retracted a press release which stated that an agreement between the school and the organization had been reached.
Following the false announcement, Etzel told the press that, in fact, no agreement had been reached because the Knights had not agreed to changes the university wanted to make to the group's mission and membership policies. Etzel also warned the school not to release false information to the media, according to the Associated Press.
Patrick Korten, Vice President for Communications for the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, told CNA that the international organization was surprised by the decision to de-recognized the university chapter and is trying to get to the bottom of the situation. “We are very concerned that a well-respected university such as the University of Wisconsin would make such a decision.”
First Amendment rights advocate, the Alliance Defense Fund, said that the university has no legal ground to bar the Knights, based upon their beliefs. "Christian student groups shouldn’t be treated differently from other student organizations,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David French. “The University of Wisconsin has decided to force campus student organizations to violate their core beliefs, even in the face of controlling federal case law that bars them from doing so.”
The ADF cited a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in which the court reinstated the official recognized status of the student Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter at the Southern Illinois University School of Law, after they had been de-recognized for the same reason. The ADF also criticized a decision by the University of Wisconsin-Superior to de-recognize the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.