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H.R. 7488: Freedom of Association in Higher Education Act of 2022


This could be bad news for the fictional sorority for gun-loving women suggested by Bill Maher: Delta Busta Kappa.

Context

In 2016, Harvard University adopted a policy cracking down on members of single-sex organizations such as fraternities, sororities, and Harvard’s famously elite and exclusive all-male “final clubs.” While the rule didn’t ban such organizations outright, it said members couldn’t serve as captains of official Harvard sports teams, couldn’t lead official student groups, and weren’t eligible for certain major scholarships from members.

Ultimately, the university dropped the policy in 2020, following their determination that they were likely to lose a lawsuit filed in 2018 by fraternities Sigma Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the sororities Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma.

What the bill does

The Freedom of Association in Higher Education Act would guarantee the legality of same-sex organizations on college campuses, and prohibit those colleges from discriminating against students who join such a group.

It was introduced in the House on April 7 as H.R. 7488, by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY21).

The bill is not to be confused with the similarly-titled Collegiate Freedom of Association Act [H.R. 6978], which is Democratic legislation that would make the building or maintenance of student housing at universities tax-deductible, including for fraternities and sororities.

What supporters say

Supporters argue that single-sex organizations aren’t inherently bad, and the crackdown on them by some elite universities is part of the left’s push to demonize and ostracize groups that many feel are beneficial to their campus experience.

“I will always stand up for constitutional rights across America and on college campuses where they are under threat,” Rep. Stefanik said in a press release. “I am proud to lead the effort to protect single-sex organizations on college campuses, so they can continue to thrive and support our next generation of leaders.”

“All college students should have the opportunity to join communities that help them flourish and grow, but this is undermined when students in single-sex organizations can be discriminated against purely because they joined these organizations,” Rep. Stefanik continued. “My legislation will protect students’ rights to free association and uphold access to the unique and supportive environments that can be fostered through single-sex organizations.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that such single-sex organizations, particularly longstanding all-male organizations, perpetuate a system of privilege and patriarchy, for which allegiance to tradition alone is not sufficient justification.

“A truly inclusive community requires that students have the opportunity to participate in the life of the campus free from exclusion on arbitrary grounds,” Harvard’s then-president Drew Gilpin Faust wrote in a 2016 statement announcing the new policy. Fraternities, sororities, and final clubs “play an unmistakable and growing role in student life, in many cases enacting forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with our deepest values. The college cannot ignore these organizations if it is to advance our shared commitment to broadening opportunity and making Harvard a campus for all of its students.”

“Nor can it endorse selection criteria that reject much of the student body merely because of gender,” Faust continued. “Those practices are inconsistent with the educational environment the college seeks to create. They encourage a form of self-segregation that undermines the promise offered by Harvard’s diverse student body. And they do not serve our students well when they step outside our gates into a society where gender-based discrimination is understood as unwise, unenlightened, and untenable.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted five cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Education and Labor Committee.

Odds of passage are low in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Last updated May 6, 2022. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Apr 7, 2022.


Freedom of Association in Higher Education Act of 2022

This bill addresses freedom of association protections for college students in single-sex social organizations.

Specifically, the bill gives students (or groups of students) enrolled at institutions of higher education (IHEs) the right to form or join social organizations, including single-sex social organizations.

Additionally, the bill prohibits IHEs that participate in federal student-aid programs from

taking adverse actions against single-sex social organizations or students who are members or prospective members of such organizations based solely on the practice of limiting membership to only individuals of one sex; taking actions that require or coerce members or prospective members of such organizations to waive protections provided under the bill, including as a condition of enrolling in the IHE; or imposing a recruitment restriction on a single-sex social organization that is not imposed upon other student organizations, unless the organization and IHE have entered into a written agreement allowing the restriction.