A constitutional attorney is decrying a decision by a well-known Catholic school in Washington, DC, to ban evangelical Christian ministries and other non-university religious groups from its campus. A Georgetown University official recently notified six evangelical campus ministry organizations that they are no longer welcome on campus.
Georgetown has long prided itself on its openness to a variety of religious traditions and faith expressions and even has Jewish and Muslim campus ministers on staff. And in the past, a number of affiliated, non-university Christian ministries have been active at the university as well, offering students resources such as Bible studies, spiritual retreats, worship, fellowship and outreach activities.
However, the university's head of Protestant Ministries has recently stated that Georgetown now wants to focus its ministry efforts through the school rather than through outside groups and has decided "not to renew any covenant agreements with any of the Affiliated Ministries." As a result, these ministries have been banned from holding on-campus events and from using or associating themselves with the Georgetown name in their literature, media communications or public advertisements.
The severance of the school's relationships with the off-campus Christian groups was announced during a meeting of the Affiliated Ministries' leaders in a letter from Rev. Constance C. Wheeler, a Protestant chaplain with the university. According to Wheeler, the school is expelling the groups as part of a "restructuring" effort, and a desire to "unify Protestant students under university leadership."
The school's decision will affect students belonging to six Christian groups, most of them evangelical, including Georgetown chapters of InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, Crossroad Campus Christian Fellowship and others. The groups were told they "will no longer be allowed to hold any activity or presence... on campus," and will not be allowed to have any presence or participation at Georgetown's annual Campus Ministry Open House. Also, the leaders were instructed that all websites linking their ministries to a presence at the university "will need to be modified to reflect the terminated relationship."
The move by the university's Campus Ministry office has sparked vehement protest, with letters and complaints coming in from several students and alumni. Some critics have suggested that an anti-evangelical bias drove the decision. According to a WorldNetDaily report, Chi Alpha co-leader Jay Lim thinks the Georgetown officials' intent is to silence "any other voices other than their own."
Attorney Calls Expulsion of GU's Affiliate Ministries An Insult to Evangelicals
David French, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, is representing ministries that have been barred from Georgetown. He feels the school's tossing of the evangelical Christian ministries off its campus is insulting on a number of levels.
For one thing, French says he believes there is an apparent and widespread anti-evangelical bias at work at Georgetown and other liberal college and university campuses, with school officials finding any reason -- and sometimes no reason at all -- to get rid of evangelical groups, even as it welcomes other religious sects with open arms.
"I mean, this is a school that absolutely bends over backwards to attract and to provide a positive faith environment, for example, for Muslim students," French asserts. And recently, he notes, Georgetown even accepted a $20 million gift from a Saudi prince to expand the university's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Considering Georgetown's purported commitment to religious diversity, it is outrageous for the university "to kick some really outstanding evangelical organizations off campus," the ADF attorney says. "It's not as if InterVarsity was out there being divisive in any way," he adds.
French, who heads ADF's Center for Academic Freedom, claims he has never in his life seen Christian groups thrown off a college campus in such a manner as this. He says if Georgetown wants to continue to attract evangelical students, the school officials need to be more tolerant of their religious views and beliefs.
"They do have legal obligations to honor their contracts with their students and to keep their promises," the constitutional attorney contends. "And if they promise students and parents when they apply that Georgetown is going to be open to a wide variety of faiths and different religious points of view, then they need to keep that promise."
But by all appearances, French points out, that is not what is happening at Georgetown University. "It looks like what we have here is an effort by those who are more liberal religiously to simply exclude those who are more conservative religiously," he says.
Nor, the ADF affiliate points out, is this problem unique to Georgetown, sadly. At many schools, there is a deep hostility not only to evangelical Christianity but to religious views in general, he says. French says more than 50 colleges, including Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Wisconsin, have attempted to end their associations with religious groups active on their campuses.
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