Utah college and Christian club settle lawsuit
Courts • Student group claimed religious bias; school pays $12,000 in settlement.
Published: April 17, 2013 07:10PM
Updated: April 21, 2013 11:15PM

Snow College has revised its policies and paid an evangelical Christian club $12,000 in a settlement with a student group that alleged the school discriminated against organizations with a religious affiliation.

Solid Rock Christian Club sued the college in September in U.S. District Court, alleging it violated constitutional rights by using a tiered status that deprived it and other religious clubs and organizations to use campus facilities without charge, to advertise events on campus and to receive funding from student fees. The lawsuit named the college, top school officials, the school’s board of trustees and the state Board of Regents as defendants.

A federal judge dismissed the case last week.

As part of the settlement agreement, Snow College revised its handbook for clubs and organizations so that it no longer contains a tiered classification that denies certain privileges to some groups. It also revised the funding policy to allow the Student Body Legislative Branch — rather than elected student advocates, student body president and director of student life — to allocate money from student fees to campus organizations. Snow College officials distributed the new handbook on campus on April 1.

Also, the Ephraim-based school said it currently has no intention to sponsor or coordinate an annual homecoming event called “Paint the Town,” but agreed that if it does so in the future it will ensure participation is not restricted and religious themes or imagery are not prohibited.

In its complaint, Solid Rock described the club as committed to “exalting and glorifying Jesus Christ on campus” and encouraging students and faculty to believe in Jesus Christ. The club is associated with Tri Grace Ministries which, according to their web site, also is committed to “challenging the heretical doctrines of Mormonism and ... leading as many Mormons as possible into a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ.”

With a brief exception during the 2010 school year, the club was able to use facilities without paying a community rental rate, the lawsuit states. It freely advertised activities and received student fee funding. During the 2010 school year, the college designated Solid Rock an “organization,” with fewer privileges, but relented after student leaders of the group protested.

But last year, college officials further modified policies and created an “affiliate” class that included Solid Rock and denied them those benefits. An official told the club’s advisor that “due to an internal audit, funding will not be allowed for religious organizations.”

The school also censored the club’s window design during last fall’s Paint the Town event, which was themed “Then, Now, and Forever.” The club’s design featured a cross with the words, “The cross covers sin then, now, and forever.”

Most of the settlement payment went to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a national group based in Arizona, that represented the club. Solid Rock received $800.

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Twitter: @Brooke4Trib