Policies change for religious student groups

We call upon all student groups to stand up for what they believe.

In the past, all student groups at the University were required to sign a diversity statement agreeing not to discriminate against any of a number of protected classes of people. In the 2003 academic year, Maranatha Christian Fellowship, our religious student group at the University, challenged that policy with a lawsuit.

We simply felt that anybody who was to be an officer of our organization should agree with the purpose of the organization. That purpose is historic Christianity. Also we saw a pattern of activists challenging of this particular issue in at least three campuses across the United States.

For the record, Maranatha is actually a very diverse organization at the University. More than 15 percent of our members are former homosexuals, and 80 percent are former adulterers or were involved in casual sex. Geographically, we are from all over the world. Our members at this time include people from Kenya, Nigeria, Indonesia, China, Ukraine, Hungary, Jamaica, Iran, the Philippines, Vietnam, Great Britain and Malaysia.

As a result of this diversity, we have learned much about how to get along with and accept others just as they are. None of these people enjoy simply being tolerated. They all want to be loved and accepted.

Maranatha Christian Fellowship is now very grateful to the University for settling our 2003 lawsuit out of court. The administration of our great university has shown itself to be among the leaders of the country in understanding free speech.

Religious speech is not restricted speech on the Twin Cities’ campus of the University. The policy manual has been changed, and now any religious student organization’s statement of faith is considered a higher document than the University’s diversity statement. We are all free to speak and believe whatever our convictions are on these matters.

The constitution and by-law instructions in the Student Organization Manual now states: “Religious student organizations may require their voting membership and officers to adhere to the organizations statement of faith and its rules of conduct.”

The imposition of someone else’s bureaucratic idea of tolerance or diversity is simply a bad idea for the entire campus population. The University’s legal department seems to be beginning to understand this. We should be dealing with actual violations of rights.

It is not a good idea to hogtie any group by prior restraint and loyalty oaths because it is thought that somehow they may offend others with their beliefs. Prior restraint indicates that someone’s personal bias is at work.

To address one more point, last year in the letters to the editor and opinions columns, there were a number of people that expressed the idea that religious groups can “believe whatever” but “that does not mean they should have any rights to fees and facilities.” This idea is flawed.

Religious students pay student fees and taxes just like everybody else. The University is home to both religious and non-religious students.

We call upon all student groups to stand up for what they believe. We simply don’t all think alike or agree with every popular conclusion in life. Personal responsibility begins with theology, and its partner in academics and philosophy. If you put bad ideas in, you will get bad ideas out. Ideas have consequences. Our religious student organization takes responsibility for our ideas and their consequences; other groups at the University should take responsibility for theirs.

If, in the coming years of our existence at the University, our ideas actually cause anybody real damage or harm, we will be very quick to repent, apologize and make adjustments. No student has the right to not be offended, but they do have the right not to be harmed. In our 23 years, we have never violated anybody’s civil rights and we do not intend to now, no matter what the spin-doctors say.

We rejoice with all people everywhere who celebrate the diversity of mankind and the differences among us. We trust that, in the end, truth will prevail.

Audra Harpel and Chris Cook are officers in the Maranatha Christian Fellowship. Please send comments to [email protected]