Student religious groups question Maranatha lawsuit

Leaders of several campus groups said the University’s nondiscrimination policy benefits student clubs.

Members of several religious student groups said this week they believe the lawsuit Maranatha Christian Fellowship recently filed against the University is unfounded.

Maranatha filed a lawsuit Oct. 24 claiming the University violated the First Amendment by requiring student groups to sign an Equal Opportunities Statement.

“I think Maranatha is entitled to its opinions and determining who they want in their group, but I think that if they do want to be recognized as a University group, they have to abide by the University policy,” said Amy Olson, executive director of Hillel, the University’s Jewish student center.

When organizations register as official student groups, they become eligible to receive student fee money, but leaders must sign the statement before receiving funds.

The statement bans groups from denying membership based on race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors. The group does not want people who do not believe in the group’s mission to be official members or elected leaders, Maranatha vice president Audra Harpel said.

“We encourage everyone to come and participate in our group and activities,” she said. It would create conflict if official members or leaders of a Christian group do not agree to biblical standards, she said.

Representatives from other religious organizations on campus said they do not share the same worries.

Rich Nicholson, president of the University’s Intervarsity Christian Fellowship chapter, said his group does not discriminate.

“Being a believer in Christ has very little to do with divisiveness,” Nicholson said. Instead, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’s job is to accept and teach people about what Christianity means, he said.

Nancy Dunlavy, a member of Buddhist student group Soka Gakkai International, said excluding viewpoints makes it difficult to talk about religion.

“Without dialogue and acceptance of our various differences, we can only form deeper and deeper mistrust, hatred, war and discrimination in this world,” said Dunlavy, who is not a University student.

Maranatha members said the lawsuit is not about excluding others but about protecting their own speech.

“Our greatest concern is to be able to practice our religion without fear of being kicked out of the student group,” Harpel said.

Some students said Maranatha is exaggerating the threat of people with different beliefs infiltrating its organization.

“There is not really an issue of people who are not interested in what Maranatha stands for and does rushing to join the group. I don’t think it will be a problem for (Maranatha). I don’t think people are trying to infiltrate the group,” Olson said.

“They want to turn down the hordes of bisexual pagan Darwinists applying for membership in Maranatha Christian Fellowship, but they still want the cash,” said Mike Jones, president of Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists.

At least one student group sympathizes with Maranatha’s concerns. Dan Kenney, president of Worship and Prayer Fellowship, said his group, which registered for student group status this year, had similar reservations about the equal opportunity statement.

“I agree that we shouldn’t have to sign that,” Kenney said, adding that his group decided to sign the form in the end.