Freedom of Association at Public Universities

Golden Gate bridge in the fogStanford law professor Michael McConnell recently represented the Christian Legal Society (CLS) in their case against San Francisco’s UC Hastings College of The Law before the U. S. Supreme Court. The CLS lost that case on a 5-4 vote (read the ruling). I’ve asked Professor McConnell to answer a few questions about the ruling, and he has graciously agreed to do so and to allow me to publish his answers online.

Q: The court ruled 5-4 in favor of UC Hastings “all-comers” policy. Was this a broad ruling affecting Christian groups at public universities generally or a relatively narrow ruling?

A: It was the most narrow ruling possible. The all-comers policy on which the Court ruled is exceedingly unusual. The Court declined to rule on the more typical situation, where the school applies religious nondiscrimination rules to religious organizations, thus denying to religious groups the freedom enjoyed by most expressive organizations of choosing their own leaders. The Court did not even rule on the all-comers policy as actually applied at Hastings, but only on an abstract and hypothetical version that applies across the board to all organizations.

Q: So let’s say I’m a Chi Alpha or an Intervarsity director at some public university. Should I be discouraged or alarmed?

A: You should be concerned, and try to work with your university to prevent infringements on your rights, because the Court’s decision provides no help to you.

Q: Did any parts of the ruling surprise you?

A: In the course of rejecting CLS’s argument, the Court gave a surprisingly narrow interpretation to free speech (public forum) precedents that I thought were firmly established law.

Q: You have no doubt read many blog posts, op-eds and news articles summarizing both the case and the court’s decision. Are there any misunderstandings you would like to correct?

A: Too many to list.

In case you’re wondering, this case only affects public universities. Our ministry at Stanford won’t be directly affected.

You can read lots of summaries of the verdict. A few of the more interesting ones:

Challenges For Chi Alpha at the University of Vermont

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Our new Chi Alpha chapter at the University of Vermont is running into some problems getting recognized as a student group on campus.

According to an article in the Vermont Cynic (the campus paper):

SGA does not recognize clubs that discriminate. However, some say they are about to.
Chi Alpha’s constitution states “[All officers] will profess Christian faith as expressed in the Nicene Creed, and they will support the mission and values of national Chi Alpha Campus Ministries.”
Claire Chevrier, SGA Student Activities Chair, who is in charge of reviewing clubs’ constitutions for discrepancies, said she was concerned about Chi Alpha’s proposed constitution.
“When I saw that statement about the officers I said ‘red flag, that doesn’t seem right,’” Chevrier said. “I initially thought they would have to change that to abide by our discrimination policy, but they were passionate about keeping it in there because they were worried about the longevity of the club.”

It is proper for religious organizations to have religious requirements for leaders. I don’t get why some people don’t get this. Requiring a Christian organization to allow non-Christians to lead it is like requiring a church to hire a non-Christian pastor. It’s ludicrous.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, March 30th the student government voted unanimously to approve Chi Alpha at UVM without requiring any changes to their constitution. Woot!

beware the H1XA virus

ChanchocheI sent this email out to my students last night and received such positive feedback I thought I’d share it here for my fellow campus ministers to adapt for use on their own campus.

In case you just stumbled upon this through some random internet search, I lead a ministry called Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship which is abbreviated with the Greek letters XA. That should be all you need to know in order to laugh/groan/hurl tomatoes at the below email.

Members of the Stanford Community,

In addition to the H1N1 virus – the so-called “swine flu” – sweeping
our campus, there is another and more insidious infection to beware.

I speak, of course, of the H1XA virus – the so-called “divine flu”.

The H1XA virus is extremely contagious. Symptoms include joy,
friendship, and a profound sense of spiritual centeredness. Carriers
can be identified by their cheerful countenance, their moral
lifestyle, and occasionally by their stylish t-shirts. Should you meet
someone already infected, know that there is no cure (especially if
they already have a t-shirt). Avoid them lest you yourself be seized
by divine purpose accompanied by rapturous joy and immersion in
meaningful community.

There will be a public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 7:30pm in
370-370 to discuss this disease in more detail. Please know that
epidemonologists are available to help prevent this disease from
spreading. Bring everyone you know who is not already infected.

Do not despair. It will be tough, but we can pull through this together.

Should conditions on campus become unbearable, we can all flee to the
woods Oct 17-18. Get your escape ticket at


Glen (a concerned member of the campus community)

Hope you find it useful. Or at least amusing. I’ll even settle for memorable. 😉

And if you’re a Stanford student who didn’t receive this little charmer, sign up for our mailing list at!

Chi Alpha Favorably Profiled In The Stanford Daily

Halls of Learning - Stanford QuadThe Stanford Daily published an article titled Testimonies On Stanford Faith about people in our ministry (Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship).

The website the article focuses on is

Reading this article was very encouraging to me because I always fear that Chi Alpha will wind up in the Daily because of some boneheaded thing I said in a sermon… this was a much better experience. 😉

Reaching the Campus Tribes

Last year I had the chance to meet a guy named Benson Hines. He took a year to travel to nearly 200 college campuses to see what God was up to, and one of his stops was Stanford University. We met and talked shop for a while and have stayed in touch via Facebook since then.

Benson has just written a free book called Reaching The Campus Tribes

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about his observations. His central thesis: college ministry is a whole lot more like foreign missions than it is like youth ministry

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It’s going to be fully available next Monday at

. For now, there’s a prerelease version you can download (pdf link, 4.2 MB).

Benson also has a blog: Exploring College Ministry. Check it out.

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Reaching College Students

My seminary’s alumni magazine, Rapport

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It came out pretty well – although I did notice one mistake (which is probably my fault, not theirs). One sentence reads, “But for each nation that missionaries go to, there are hundreds of thousands of students from that nation currently studying in America.” Clearly that should be written more along the lines of, “But for each nation that missionaries go to, there are usually hundreds OR thousands of students from that nation studying in America.”

The other articles in that issue are also about college ministry, including three by former students of mine:

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I’m proud of them – they’re doing great things in God’s service. It was a privilege to play a small role in preparing them for ministry.

Joe, of course, played an even larger role in their lives than I did. One more testimony of his impact.

Joe – we miss you.

And to everyone who’s wondering if I’ll be at the funeral tomorrow, I’m sad to report that I won’t be. Just wasn’t able to work it out. I’ll be there in spirit.

A Lament for a Friend

Joe Zickafoose

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died last night. He had cancer, and in the process of treatment his immune system became so weak that he was very vulnerable to infection, got pneumonia, and died.

Maybe this is normal, but I don’t feel overwhelmed by emotion until I try to talk to someone about it. It’s kind of weird. When I’m on the phone with a mutual friend of Joe’s, I start to choke up. And I usually weep for a few moments after I hang up. After that, I’m fine (albeit sad) until the next conversation.

It would be hard to overstate Joe’s influence in my life. When I moved from Louisiana to Missouri to go to seminary, I began volunteering at the Chi Alpha ministry he led at Missouri State University. He soon asked me to join him on staff, and I seized the opportunity to work with this amazing man.

I got to know Joe very well over the next few years. He was a real mentor. He told amazingly funny stories. He was kind and caring. And wicked smart. Joe really knew his stuff. He helped me understand how theology related to practical ministry in a way that is still stunning to me.

I have so many vivid memories of Joe that it’s hard to believe he’s really dead.

I’ll never forget his booming laugh echoing through the office. I remember once I was giving a student an explanation about eschatology (the end of the world), and after the student left Joe just started laughing uncontrollably. “Glen, do you realize how many times I’ve heard you give that exact same explanation using the exact same words to students?” Maybe it would be funnier if you heard my explanation and knew a little more about my denomination, but this isn’t really the place for a theological treatise on the return of Christ.

Another story that springs to mind is the time Joe decided to buy a motorcycle. He used to ride them as a kid, and he wanted to return to the halcyon days of his youth. So he did his research, bought the bike and all the accessories. It was a months-long process, filled with days of Joe waxing eloquent about the joys of motorcycle riding. Joe could get pretty obsessive about his hobbies, and this was close to displacing music in his level of passion. He set out to ride and my phone rang about an hour later. It was Joe. “Glen, I crashed my bike. Can you come pick me up?” So I set out in my trust Isuzu pickup to retrieve the noble fallen Zickafoose. He sold the bike shortly afterward. It was one of the most heartbreaking and yet funny events I can remember.

But my favorite story of Joe has to be his salvation story. I might have it a little jumbled, but this is the essence of it. He spent his teenage years working hard and saving for college. However, when he arrived at Kent State he blew all the money he had spent years saving in one term on a crazy drug binge. He had to drop out because he had depleted all his funds. But before he did, he met Jesus. Here’s how it happened.

Joe and his drug buddies used to stay up late at night talking about crazy stuff they had seen. Joe Zickafoose’s roommate, Joe Daltorio (hereafter referred to as Big Joe), had some of the best stories about people he had seen healed at the Pentecostal church he grew up in. Joe was skeptical, but Big Joe swore up and down he had seen it with his own eyes.

One night Joe was visiting his supplier down the hall, and they made some sort of joke about Satan. As Joe tells it, at that moment they felt the temperature drop and an ominous presence filled the room. Joe fled back to his room where Big Joe happened to be. As Joe entered the room, he felt the exact opposite presence. A sense of overwhelming peace filled his dorm room.

“I don’t know what’s happening in here, but I want it.”

Big Joe looked at him and said, “Joe, I’m what you call a backslider. I was turning my back on what I knew to be true. I told you all those stories about my church, but I never told you the most important story of all. Jesus is God and he died for your sins. You can be forgiven and have peace with God. I just finished repenting and I’m not going to be part of the drug scene anymore. Do you want in?”

Joe said sure, and so Big Joe explained, “This is the way they do it at church. Would you please bow your head? Without looking around, if you want to receive Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, would you please raise your hand? Great. Please kneel and repeat after me. Dear Jesus, I know I’m a sinner and I need your grace. I humbly repent and please forgive me of my sins and help me not to do them anymore. With your help, I’ll serve you.”

And that’s how Joe became a Christian. His drug friends came over to his room and Joe decided to put some music on to celebrate. He began digging through his collection until he found something that looked religious and put it on the record player. He told his friends, “See, there’s a quote by George Bernard Shaw about God on the cover. It’s spiritual music.”

His drug dealer friend started laughing. “What does George Bernard Shaw know about God? He was an atheist!”

Joe’s countenance changed; he stared at his record collection. “I’ve been deceived,” he said slowly. He took the record off the player and threw it out his window like a frisbee. It smashed into the next building. His friends sat stunned. One by one he took all the records in his collection and hurled them into oblivion, his friends screaming at him to stop and begging him to give them the records instead. He bellowed, “None shall have them!”

I always used to crack up at that line. “None shall have them!”

There are so many stories about Joe. He was truly an amazing individual. I’ll miss him deeply. We hadn’t talked too much in the last few years because he was serving overseas as a missionary to university students in Scotland, but I thought of him often.

I can barely imagine what his wife and teenage sons must be going through. I rejoice that Joe is in heaven experiencing his reward, but I weep for his family who now must soldier on without him. If you remember, be sure to pray for them.