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A Christian student group at Wayne State University can move forward with its religious discrimination lawsuit against the school, a federal judge in Port Huron ruled Friday.

The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship sued the university last year after the school derecognized the group because of the organization's policy mandating that its leaders must be Christian.

Wayne State argued that the group's rule violates the university's nondiscrimination policy. The school said it requires the same policy for Hindu and Jewish campus groups.

InterVarsity filed a 20-count complaint alleging that Wayne State violated its First Amendment rights to free speech and to freely exercise its religious beliefs.

Wayne State recertified InterVarsity three days after the group sued March 6, 2018.

Read more:Wayne State, Christian student group in court battle

InterVarsity has been over on Wayne State University's campus for over 75 years. It holds Bible studies and participates in volunteer efforts. According to InterVarsity's Wayne State chapter, "all students are welcome to participate and to be members of the group."

Recognized student groups at Wayne State's campus have access to many benefits, according to InterVarsity, including having the ability to reserve free meeting space, appear on Wayne State's webpage and apply for funding.

Cristina  Garza, the group's president, said Wayne State's dean of students told her the organization's requirement that its leaders are Christian was not consistent with Wayne State's nondiscrimination code.

“We’re pleased that the court is allowing our case to go forward,” said Greg Jao, director of external relations at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. “InterVarsity just wants to continue serving the campus and local community. All religious students should have the right to come together for worship and service according to their religious identity without being targeted for their faith.”  

Lou Lessem, the university's general counsel, said Friday he could not comment on the decision because he hadn't read it.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland said while Wayne State argues that "InterVarsity does not 'allege a single fact that would suggest anti-religious animus or discriminatory intent, InterVarsity specifically alleges that 'Wayne State is aware of violations of its nondiscrimination policy" by other groups that are not Christian.

Cleland added: "InterVarsity proceeds to enumerate more than ten student groups that plausibly violate the relevant Wayne State policies ... Wayne State may ultimately prove these arguments to be mistaken or otherwise meritless."

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

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