Trying to Weed Out Bias, Colleges Restrict Evangelical Groups

Tuesday, 10 Jun 2014 12:24 PM

By Lisa Degnen

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Evangelical groups are coming under fire at colleges around the country because they refuse to sign on to anti-discrimination policies.

A report in The New York Times cited the case of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, vs. Bowdoin Christian Fellowship. The college will no longer recognize the Bible study group because it has "refused to agree to the college's demand that any student, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, should be able to run for election as a leader of any group, including the Christian association."

The same thing is happening on a number of college campuses around the country, the report says. The colleges claim they want to weed out bias, particularly toward homosexuals. Evangelicals say the schools are uncomfortable with conservative Christian groups.

At California State University, the Times reported, "the chancellor is preparing this summer to withdraw official recognition from evangelical groups that are refusing to pledge not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the selection of their leaders."

At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, a campus Christian group has lost its standing with the college over the same issue, and said it was asked to  cut the words "personal commitment to Jesus Christ" from its list of qualifications for leadership.

The Times says evangelical and some Catholic groups say they do not discriminate against any group, but want to control who they choose to lead them in Bible study and prayer services.

"It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can't hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard," the Times quotes 23-year-old Bowdoin student Zackary Suhr as saying.

The groups can continue to meet on campus but often lose the ability to recruit on campus, get student activity fee money, or free space for meetings and worship.

"It's absurd," Alec Hill, president of InterVarsity, a national association of evangelical student groups, told the Times. "The genius of American culture is that we allow voluntary, self-identified organizations to form, and that's what our student groups are."

"We're not willing to water down our beliefs in order to be accepted," the paper quoted Austin Weatherby, a Cal State Chico student. "Anyone can join, but if you want to lead a Bible study, you need to believe these things."

A lawyer for the university told the Times that no exceptions can be made from the policy.

"Our mission is education, not exclusivity," attorney Susan Westover said.

Jewish Research did a study on the religious beliefs and behavior of college faculty and concluded that they are "much less Christian than the general public. While 80 percent of the public self-identify as Christian, only 56 percent of faculty self-identify in the same way," they report.

"The drop in evangelicals among faculty, who are three times more numerous in the general public, largely accounts for the difference."

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