Baylor Students Pass Controversial Bill to Charter Non-Baptist Groups

The Student Senate at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, passed a bill on Thursday in an effort to grant non-Baptist Christian groups the same privileges as Baptist organizations on campus.

Baylor students are debating over whether to charter other Christian groups on their campus or keep its current university policy, which allows only Baptist groups to meet on campus regularly and limits non-Baptist groups to advertising on campus and holding one recruiting event per semester. A new push by students, however, resulted in a majority vote (15 to 12) in the Student Senate to allow all Christian groups to freely meet on school grounds. The bill moved to the Board of Regents where it awaits a final say.

“The idea behind this bill is there is a need among students to meet on campus,” said Jen Kim, one of the bill's authors, as reported by The Baylor Lariat, the student publication owned by Baylor University. “Let's say a group of just 10 kids wants to meet (on campus) once a week and have a praise group. They can't do that now because they aren't Baptist.”

The current policy that allows only Baptist organizations to be chartered at the more than 150-year-old Baylor campus came as a surprise to David Coffield, director of media relations for Hardin-Simmons University – a Baptist campus in Abilene, Texas – considering the diversity of religious students at Baylor. Less than half are Baptist.

Hardin-Simmons along with several other Baptist-affiliated universities in Texas allow non-Baptist groups to meet freely on campus.

"It's very much a part of what we do," said Coffield. Although there is no formal written policy on chartering religious student organizations, Coffield said Hardin-Simmons does not impose any restrictions on non-Baptist groups meeting regularly. In fact, the school encourages it.

At Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas, Pentecostal groups, such as the Assemblies of God, and Catholic students meet on a weekly basis for Bible studies, according to Donnie Brown, director of Baptist Student Ministries at Wayland.

Non-Baptist groups also have no problem meeting and holding events on the grounds of Houston Baptist University.

Meanwhile, over 100 groups at Baylor University, the largest Baptist University in the world, have raised their voices to let the school's Board of Regents know of the need to charter diverse Christian organizations on their own campus, Kim indicated, according to the Lariat. Charters to non-Baptist Christian organizations were denied beginning in 2000, Andy Beall, a member of Student Senate's diversity committee, told the Lariat.

Other students, however, have argued that the Student-Senate approved bill does not reflect the whole of the students at Baylor. Some believe opening the door to non-Baptist organizations could cause the university to lose its Baptist identity and even head toward secularism, the Lariat reported, as was the case for Brown University.

Steve Vernon, president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), was unaware of the bill students are trying to pass at Baylor when asked to comment on Friday. Nevertheless, he expressed confidence in the university's governing board. “I have complete confidence in [the Board of Regents] on any decision they make," he told The Christian Post. Baylor is affiliated with the BGCT.

Baylor currently has nearly 14,000 students and is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state.