Christian university blocks pro-life group but says it doesn't support abortion

Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life leads anti-abortion demonstrators as they cheer after the ruling for Hobby Lobby was announced outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 30, 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of U.S. President Barack Obama's healthcare law that requires closely held companies to provide health insurance that covers birth control. | Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

A Christian university in Tennessee is standing behind its student senate’s decision not to officially recognize a local chapter of the pro-life activist organization Students for Life of America. However, students are still hopeful they will be able to get recognition in the spring.

The student senate at Bethel University in Tennessee, an institution affiliated with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church with over 4,500 undergraduates, rejected a bid by students to have their Students for Life chapter recognized as an on-campus club in early November.

Students for Life exists to “abolish abortion” and “transform culture by helping young people make abortion unthinkable and obsolete on their campus, in their community, and in our nation.” Across the country, there are 1,200 Students for Life groups at high schools and colleges. 

After some expressed concern with the decision to not grant Students for Life recognition on campus considering it is a Christian institution that holds pro-life views, the Bethel University administration issued a statement expressing why it did not step in to override the student senate’s decision to reject the pro-life student group. 

“Student clubs and organizations must be approved by the Bethel Student Senate to be recognized as official and receive funding,” the school’s statement reads. “The student senators evaluate each new group based on its alignment with Bethel’s mission, values, and Covenant for Life Together, as well as its ability to demonstrate that Bethel ‘would be better with this club or organization.’”

The Bethel statement explains that following a debate, the student senators concluded that the Students for Life proposal “did not sufficiently meet the final criterion.” 

“Some have asked why Bethel’s administration doesn’t intervene in situations like this. In fact, we do, but in a way that honors the living/learning community we foster at Bethel,” the statement explains. “Learning and personal development can be a messy process.”

The university’s statement added that the school strives to “create a safe space for our students to think critically, learn, explore, and navigate the results of their decisions.”

According to the university, its student life staff is working with student senators to “explore the nuances of this decision.”

“The students who proposed the club are also working to amend and resubmit their proposal,” the statement reads.

On the issue of abortion, the university’s statement assured that the school does not support abortion. 

“We believe that life is sacred and all people have worth because they are created in God’s image,” the statement reads. “We do not support abortion and maintain an attitude of love, forgiveness, and healing toward those immediately involved in decisions regarding this issue.” 

“Our Christian formation and church relations, student life, and counseling and health services staff are available to community members in need of support and guidance,” the Bethel statement concluded. “As a community, Bethel grieves the pain and loss that often accompany these situations and strives to be a place committed to honoring the life, worth, and dignity of all people.”

Although students are disappointed in the senate’s decision, Students for Life has expressed confidence that the Bethel group will eventually get approval. 

A spokesperson for Students for Life of America told The Christian Post on Tuesday that the students are “weighing their options and look forward to being approved in the Spring.”

“It's an on-going process,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. 

Pro-life student groups have faced opposition on other campuses nationwide. 

In November, a school district in Florida allowed a pro-life student group to launch at a high school after a principal was accused of banning the group for being too “controversial.” 

In August, a federal judge ruled that the California State University of San Marcos engaged in viewpoint discrimination by denying its Students for Life groups request for funding for an event. 

Last year, Ball State University in Indiana allowed school funding to go to its Students for Life chapter as part of a legal settlement after a funding request for $300 was initially denied from the Student Activity Fee Committee.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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