Bowdoin College Encourages Non-Christians to Lead Christian Groups

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  • Nate Kellum
    Nate Kellum is Chief Counsel for the Center for Religious Expression.
By Nate Kellum, CP Op-Ed Contributor
June 19, 2014|9:36 am

Colleges are chock-full of various, diverse student organizations, grouping like-minded individuals around a common interest and mission. One can expect a culinary club to be led by a foodie, the Young Democrats by devoted members of the Democratic Party, the dance club by someone who knows how (or least likes) to dance, and the Feminist Student Organization by students who wish to advance the cause of women.

But more and more colleges are depriving religious student groups, particularly, Christian-oriented groups, of this same basic liberty to gather with – and be led by – individuals with harmonious views. Instead, these colleges want to tell Christian groups what they are supposed to think.

The current situation at Bowdoin College in Maine is representative of this creeping and downright disturbing trend.

Through a "non-discrimination" policy, Bowdoin forbids official student organizations from excluding students from participation and leadership due to their religious beliefs. Groups are free to discriminate, mind you, for a vast number of reasons, but not on the basis of religion.

While this notion makes sense for the chess club, where religion plays no role in the identity of the group, and an Atheist could lead as effectively as a Muslim, Christian, or Jew, as long he or she possesses knowledge of and passion for the game, it makes little sense to force a Christian group to let non-adherents guide and direct their organization. If this sort of compelled groupthink took place on the campus of a public university, it would violate a number of constitutional rights. But even in a private setting, like Bowdoin, the process unduly infringes on the conscience of students.

Call me old-fashioned, but it seems best to have a Muslim student lead the Muslim student organization, a Jewish student to lead Hillel, and a Christian student lead the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

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At Bowdoin, Rob and Sim Gregory, who have served Bowdoin Christian Fellowship for almost a decade as volunteer leaders, were constrained to step down from their roles at the end of the semester. The Gregory's declined to sign Bowdoin's Volunteer Agreement, which requires all volunteers to formally agree to comply with the College's policies including Bowdoin's Freedom from Discrimination and Harassment policy (doesn't that have a nice ring to it?), which prohibits discrimination against any Bowdoin community member based on factors that include race, sex, sexual orientation, in addition to religion.

The Gregory's labored to find another way. They sought counsel from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which whom their chapter affiliates. They tried to dialogue and reason with the college, but to no avail. Perhaps, the Gregory's could have agreed to one thing and secretly done something else, signing the policy with a wink and a nod. But ultimately, the couple could not in good conscience agree to the terms that Bowdoin forced upon them.

Apparently, some, including many influential college officials, believe religion in general and Christianity in particular ought to be more inclusive and not let differences in opinion over the authority and meaning of scripture prevent interested parties from participating and leading student groups. Though this notion of inclusivity doesn't translate to obliging Vegan groups to take on meat-lovers, or environmentally minded groups to welcome those who refuse to be green, or any other non-religious group to betray their identity and mission through their membership and leadership, they expect Christians to forego their deeply-held beliefs to maintain a reserved spot on campus.

But if our nation's college campuses are to be the marketplace of ideas they claim to be, they must respect and protect all opinions, allowing students, volunteers and others on campus to hold ideas that are unique to them, even when those ideas don't seem to be politically correct.

Nate Kellum is chief counsel for the Center for Religious Expression a non-profit organization in Memphis, TN dedicated entirely to the protection of religious speech.
 

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