Wednesday, April 5th, the Student Senate of California State University Long Beach met to discuss next year's budget. Students pay each semester into a communal fund $88 towards services and grants made to student groups for programs. It came to my attention last year, that the student senate was spending thousands of dollars on events that promoted one religious denomination, and were blatantly political and divisive. The Associated Students Inc. by-laws, which governs the distribution of grants, states that they do not grant funds to:
• Activities which support or sponsor religious rites, services, instruction, recruitment, or proselytism; promote religious purposes; or limit participation to members of a certain faith;
• Activities which have a financial affiliation with one or more off-campus organizations whose principal purposes are political, ideological, or religious; or
• Activities that are primarily dedicated to advocating a specific political or ideological position rather than creating a forum to promote discussion or debate of a political or ideological issue from different perspectives.
Yesterday, in an impassioned speech made before the senate, I reminded the senate of their obligations to the students and to the spirit and letter of the ASI by-laws governing grant-making. The speech was quoted in today's edition of the Daily 49er:
While it is stated clearly in the ASI Bylaws not to endorse any religious stance or fund a religious organization, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of the University Interfaith Center implied past funding of an unnamed religious organization’s event bordered on going against the principle of separation of church and state.
He spoke about appeals for ASI funding expected to come at the meeting, as they prepare to approve the 2006-07 budget in the coming weeks.
In a stirring speech that evoked applause from the Senate, Bookstein concluded by telling the Senators, “You have the power to take the right step, to move in the right direction. And I beg of you, I pray, that when funding comes in front of you today that does not seem to fit the bill of separation of church and state, that you will vote in the right direction. I thank you very much for your time…and God bless.”
What constitutes events that "promote religious purposes"? What constitutes "Activities that are primarily dedicated to advocating a specific political or ideological position"?
Inviting religious speakers who promote a particular faith, advocate political ideologies, promote bigotry and hate would seem to a violation of these codes. Yet, the Senate Board of Control, when presented with evidence that funds had been used in violation of ASI by-laws, voted to approve more funds for that orginization.
Furthermore, programs are only funded that are open to all, and not limited in participation:
Grants will only be awarded to programs that are open to any student wishing to participate. A.S. will not award grants to any program that restricts or limits participation based on sex, disability, race, color, national origin, age, marital status, religion, or sexual orientation.
Events that feature condemnations, slurs, epithets, and accusations against of one group or another, are limiting participation of the affected group. Events that are homophobic, sexist, and racist—while being permitted according to first amendment rights—do not and should not qualify for public funding.
The organization in question had no apologies for their decisions to invite hate-speakers and religious proselytizers to campus. The group has not hidden their agenda. They continue to march forward with plans for "awareness weeks" that promote their religion and condemn others, while taking public money.
It will take brave and honest members of the student body, and unbiased members of the staff of the University that oversee student activities, to amend the wrongs that have been committed and to prevent further harm in the future.