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Intolerance on campus in the name of tolerance

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Education,Op-Eds,First Amendment,Freedom of Speech,Freedom of Religion,Christianity,Monica Perez

Bowdoin College officials insist that "religious freedom and spirituality are alive and thriving" at the liberal arts school in Maine but members of a campus Christian club there heartily disagree.

For the first time in 40 years, Bowdoin Christian Fellowship's club charter was rejected because it requires that the organization's student leaders be, well, Christians.

BCF welcomes members of all religious backgrounds, but expects that its leaders, who are in charge of Bible studies, prayer and worship meetings, affirm the central beliefs and morals of traditional Christianity.

This year, that requirement has been dubbed "discrimination" by Bowdoin College’s administration.

Because of a refusal to sign an agreement requiring BCF to allow any student, regardless of religious affiliation, to lead the group, university recognition of the club’s charter was revoked.

“Every organization has to be open to every student, and every position of leadership has to be open to any individual, without discrimination,” said the Rev. Robert Ives, director of religious and spiritual life at Bowdoin, in a New York Times article.

In February, BCF asked that the agreement include a special reservation for religious beliefs, but student affairs officials denied the request, saying it was unfair to grant exceptions to some groups and not to others.

The issue is that religious conviction has a direct bearing on the prosperity of the group, much like physical capability on a sports team.

As a group founded on a faith-based world view, it is common sense, not discrimination, to desire that leaders share in that perspective.

"Belief-based groups should be able to make belief-based decisions," said Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

FIRE is a nonprofit that works to defend individual rights — including freedom of speech and religious freedom — at America’s colleges and universities.

FIRE's website has rated Bowdoin as an "institution with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application."

In order to maintain official club status at Bowdoin, all student groups must abide by the club rules.

The Student Club rules and regulations state that "clubs cannot discriminate membership or leadership based on race, religion, age, ethnic or national origin, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation, or income."

This rule, however, has its own exemption "for the gender requirement and physical ability requirement may be made if in direct alignment with the club’s express purpose and mission." This provision allows groups like Bowdoin’s Women in Business to deny leadership to a male.

At Bowdoin, gender and physical ability are recognized exceptions to the nondiscriminatory statement, but students' most deeply held beliefs of religious faith aren't.

Arguably, gender and physical ability, unlike religious beliefs, are not freely chosen. In that case, however, race and sexual orientation should be included in the exceptions.

Bowdoin’s Office of Student Activities declined to comment on the issue.

Allowing exceptions based on gender or physical ability over religion appears arbitrary, especially since religious affiliation is in "direct alignment with the club’s expressed purpose and mission."

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, BCF's national umbrella ministry, defines its purpose "to establish and advance at colleges and universities witnessing communities of students and faculty who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord."

How can a leader who identifies as an atheist, for example, effectively advance these goals? In the same way, how can a vehement meat-lover effectively advance vegetarianism in a vegetarian club?

Bowdoin is effectively accusing BCF of discrimination because of members' adherence to traditional Christianity.

“It is not discrimination, it is discernment, that allows the club to have judgment over who possesses the qualities fit to lead the group,” said Robert Gregory, a BCF adviser.

In BCF, active members willingly step forward and vocalize their desire to take on more responsibility in the group. From there, the members affirm the student’s decision, and finally the student begins to lead.

"There is no ballot-box," Gregory said.

The student simply expresses a willingness to lead the group by the Scriptures and the advisers assign him or her to a position to do so, he added.

No student has ever been denied leadership in BCF and no student has ever complained about not being "allowed" to lead.

The backlash from Bowdoin is simply a reactionary measure of BCF’s objection to the formal agreement.

"This is just another example of politics used under the guise of principle," said Shibley.

BCF has been active on the Bowdoin campus for more than four decades and its advisers, Robert and Sim Gregory, work for free.

Standing by their principles meant losing school funding, and the right to recruit on campus and reserve school facilities.

Evangelical Christians at top colleges across the nation are finding that, in the name of tolerance, their faith is no longer tolerated.

Brown University student Monica Perez is a Washington Examiner intern.

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Monica Perez

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