Student group sues U over membership rule

The Christian group says a mandatory Equal Opportunities Statement violates its rights.

by Stephanie Kudrle

A student group filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit against the University on Friday, claiming its policies violate the group’s First Amendment rights.

The Maranatha Christian Fellowship, an organization that promotes Christian beliefs, claims a University policy requiring student groups to sign an Equal Opportunities Statement violates constitutional rights.

Every student group on campus must sign the statement before becoming an official group, which provides access to University funding and other student group amenities.

The statement forbids student groups from denying membership based on sexual orientation, religious affiliation or other discriminatory factors.

The federal lawsuit seeks a court order to prevent the University from requiring religious groups to sign the statement. The suit claims admitting members who have extramarital sex or participate in other activities Maranatha condemns are contrary to its beliefs.

“If we’re a Christian organization, we don’t want non-Christian leaders,” Maranatha vice president Audra Harpel said.

She said the group filed the suit because groups at other schools have been barred from those campuses for failing to abide by similar statements.

Maranatha has been on campus for 22 years, but Harpel said the group never challenged the statement previously because it was intimidated.

“Now we realize we do have legal protection,” Harpel said.

The group filed the suit Friday because Maranatha leaders must sign the Equal Opportunity Statement by the end of the month or lose their rights and funding as a student group.

They did not receive student fees funding last year, but Harpel said the group receives $2,500 in administrative grants.

“Our lawyer will take this all the way to the Supreme Court if he has to,” Harpel said.

Full day for the fellowship

Maranatha members also prompted a debate about Halloween with passersby at Coffman Union on Friday afternoon.

Group members sat at a table outside the bookstore, condemning Halloween as sinful and claiming it celebrates death.

Atheist students and others who stopped to debate said the holiday was neither evil nor religious.

Jonathon Bislew, a Campus Evangelist pastor who was at the table, said they did it to discuss the Christian perspective of Halloween.

“Halloween started with the Europeans worshipping death,” Bislew said. “You can read that in history books.”

He said people dress up as evil creatures and “demonic things” the Bible condemns as sinful.

But University student Teegan Wydra said the group should look at modern Halloween traditions like candy, costumes and parties.

“He said it was all historical, but nobody thinks about it that way today,” Wydra said. “It’s not relevant Ö it’s changed throughout the years.”

She added that biblical ideas need modernization.

“You can’t apply the Bible to today’s standards,” Wydra said. “There are many things about Christianity that don’t apply to today because it’s so different.”

Maranatha has presented Halloween demonstrations for 22 years, but Bislew said this is the first time it erupted into a debate.

“We aren’t angry at people who celebrate Halloween,” Bislew said. “We just want to show them what’s wrong with it and why they shouldn’t participate.”

Students watching the debate, however, said the Christian perspective would not stop them from dressing up and celebrating Halloween this Friday.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.