Notebook > Religion

Singled out

Religion | Universities go after popular evangelical groups

Issue: "Can't run or hide," Oct. 14, 2006

Ignoring judicial precedents, the University of Wisconsin at Superior "de-recognized" the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) chapter earlier this year for requiring student leaders to be Christians-an alleged violation of the school's anti-discriminatory policies for campus organizations.

After university officials refused to budge from their position, IVCF this month took them to court. They want the chapter, which has been on campus 40 years and currently numbers about 50 students, to be reinstated and its First Amendment rights observed.

Alliance Defense Fund attorneys, who represent IVCF in the case, reminded school officials that they were going against precedents, including one in their own jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals. In July, a 7th Circuit appeals panel in similar circumstances ordered reinstatement of the Christian Legal Society chapter at Southern Illinois University pending trial in federal court. The panel said there were strong reasons to believe the group will prevail in court.

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Meanwhile, after barring evangelical student ministries from campus last month ("Hoya crackdown," Sept. 16), Georgetown University was having second thoughts. Campus Ministry director Timothy Godfrey appointed an advisory committee to help the Jesuit school design "a more effective structure for serving our Protestant students."

However, many evangelical students (including some on the advisory commission) are having second thoughts, too. They like being free from the bureaucratic and "boring" overhang of Godfrey's Protestant division. They instead want to organize with GU's Student Activities Commission, as the SAC-funded and Campus Ministry--free Muslim Students Association has done.

University officials ruled out that option, saying they must be under the campus ministry's Protestant umbrella. InterVarsity and other evangelical campus leaders objected, claiming discrimination. Their affiliated student groups continue to meet informally or off campus.

Bulletin Board

INDIA: Christian groups in India are protesting the latest anti-conversion measures in Gujarat state. The Hindu-run government declared Buddhism and Jainism to be branches of Hinduism and therefore exempt from the law that requires converts to other faiths to seek government approval. "Only those converting to Islam and Christianity have to report to the government," the Evangelical Fellowship of India complained. The law strips away fundamental human rights and will further inflame tensions, the group warned.

NEW YORK: Rev. James A. Forbes Jr., 71, senior minister of Manhattan's troubled Riverside Church for 18 years, announced he will retire at year's end. He was the first black senior minister at Riverside, a historic liberal bastion. The Forbes tenure was marked by an energetic preaching style but also by allegations of fiscal mismanagement and other controversies, including his support for same-sex marriage. Forbes' predecessors included anti-fundamentalist Harry Emerson Fosdick, the most prominent liberal Baptist minister in the early 20th century, and peace activist William Sloan Coffin.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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