Correction: An earlier version of this story used an image depicting the organization Central Florida Wesley. This organization is not located on campus, nor is it funded by UCF. We apologize for the error.
UCF is a state university—a public state university that receives funding from the state government and taxpayers — which means it should not distribute that funding to religious student organizations.
Religious RSOs are currently granted funding under Florida statute 1009.24, section 10b which states "the student activity and service fees shall be expended for lawful purposes to benefit the student body in general. This shall include, but shall not be limited to, student publications and grants to duly recognized student organizations, the membership of which is open to all students at the university without regard to race, sex, or religion."
Don't take that to mean that religious RSOs should be funded — because that would go against the federal Constitution and the First Amendment.
The First Amendment guarantees five freedoms: speech, press, protest, assembly and religion. While religious students have the right to practice their religion, they don’t have the right to have it be funded by the state.
According to the Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The first half of that sentence is the Establishment Clause, which according to the US Courts government website, forbids the government from establishing a religion. The second half of that sentence is the Free Exercise Clause, which protects an individual’s right to practice religion however they please as long as it does not go against public morals.
I believe that to have a government hand in any religion is unconstitutional. The United States is not a “Christian nation.” It was not founded on any religious doctrine. In fact, it was founded on the idea that the government should support no religion — and that includes monetary support.
In the 1941 case Everson v. Board of Education regarding the Establishment Clause, Justice Hugo L. Black stated “neither a state nor the federal government can openly or secretly participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa.”
This means that UCF should not be using any funds provided by the government to support any religious organization, regardless of whether it’s student-run or not. By funding religious student organizations, UCF is openly participating in the affairs of religious organizations.
Another case involving the Establishment Clause was the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman, which created the three-part “Lemon test.”
Under the "Lemon test,” the government can assist religion only if the primary purpose of the assistance is secular, the assistance neither promotes nor inhibits religion, and there is no excessive entanglement between church and state, according the United States Courts website.
Constitutionally, no state funds should go toward supporting or condemning a religious organization. As a public state university, UCF should not have any political or religious connections. Instead, it should stand as a beacon of secular thought and scientific advancement.
In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals denied the University of Wisconsin the right to refuse religious registered student organizations’ funding in Badger Catholic v. Walsh. The university and six other groups, including the American Association of Community Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, issued a brief that stated activities such as religious worship, instruction and proselytizing shouldn’t be funded by money collected by a state college or university.
However, the brief stated that funding could go toward organizations dedicated to the academic debate and discussion of religions – which relates back to the first step of the “Lemon test” and the need for monetary funding to be secular in nature.
The plaintiff in Badger Catholic v. Walsh called this issue the “relentless discrimination against Christian and conservative groups.”
I think a more accurate way of putting this issue is the misuse of state funds.
Alissa Smith is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @thealissasmith or email her at AlissaS@centralfloridafuture.com.