Debate ensues over Knights of Columbus charter

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Debate ensues over Knights of Columbus charter

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Questions about religion, gender and SLU’s identity as a Catholic Jesuit institution flared up at Wednesday’s SGA meeting when a proposed bill saw the Knights of Columbus — a Catholic organization exclusively for men — facing the prospect of losing their status as a CSO, or chartered student organization. The Senate chambers were unusually packed as members of the Knights of Columbus chapter — which boasts a total of 15 members, according to SLU groups— along with other concerned students showed up and spoke before the Senate to defend their organization’s right to remain chartered.

The reason for resolution was to better accommodate CSO guidelines, which stipulate that CSOs are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of gender or religion. Membership of the Knights of Columbus, a nationwide fraternal order dating back to 1882, is open to males 18 years of age or older who are “practical (that is, practicing) Catholics,” according to their website.

The CSO Guidebook states, “Any student organization that selects its membership upon the bases of restrictive clauses such as race, color, sex, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or veteran status will be considered operating in conflict with University policy.”

In the end, efforts to defund the group were narrowly defeated in a 10-10 vote, with none abstaining (resolutions require a clear majority to pass).

“A vote no would mean you don’t support us on this campus,” said sophomore Sean Pilcher, speaking on behalf of the Knights. “The fact that Knights of Columbus pre-exists [SLU SGA] is a good reason for us to be grandfathered in. We didn’t change, the handbook did. We’ve been here for 74 years.”

Vice President of Student Organizations, Devon McDaniel, however, mentioned that the purpose wasn’t to defund or eliminate the group, merely to restructure it in a more appropriate manner. Suggestions were offered about reclassifying the group, such as placing it under the wing of Campus Ministry, or allowing it to exist as an endorsed student organization (ESO), which would grant it temporary access to some of the resources offered to CSOs while still remaining outside the SGA’s administration.

Other Senators argued in favor of carving out exceptions to the non-discrimination rule for Catholic organizations.

Pilcher pointed out that many club sports, such as women’s soccer and men’s rugby, are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sex and able-bodiedness. Senior Betsy Daly pointed out that a female-oriented counterpart to the Knights of Columbus exists, called the Daughters of Isabella. Though no such chapter currently exists at SLU, she argued that female Catholics would be able to form one if desired.

As several Senators pointed out, however, other faith-based CSOs, such as the Jewish Student Association, Interfaith Alliance and the Muslim Student Association, do not require members to adhere to any one particular faith in order to join or even participate on their executive board.

Senator Andrew Budd said, “I don’t see a problem with having a group based on religion because it’s part of our Catholic heritage… I think SGA de-chartering them sends the wrong message. Our role here as senators in the Student Government Organization is to support the Jesuit mission of this university.”

Still, questions about the exclusive nature of the group remained. Vice President of Inclusivity and Diversity, Amanda Pekau, said, “I don’t appreciate you sitting here and lying, saying you don’t discriminate based on gender and sexual orientation when your organization historically has donated $15 million since 2005 to prevent gay marriage.”

In one exchange an SGA senator challenged the inclusivity of the group in regards to exclusion of members based on sexual orientation, and wondered whether an openly gay practicing Catholic would be permitted to join the organization.

Pilcher replied, “Like I said, we’re not going to conduct a background check. If you say you’re a practicing Catholic, that’s fine.”