ADF on Georgetown's Ministry Decision

Georgetown recently announced that it was not renewing any of its relationships with "affiliated ministries" - outside religious ministries that were allowed to have a presence on that Catholic campus to work with students. This includes many Protestant groups, which has led to a lot of media attention and protest from the religious right on the issue. The ADF, in particular, have really played fast and loose with the facts in the situation. The Worldnutdaily reports many of their misleading claims on the matter:

He (ADF attorney David French) told WND that there's been no satisfactory explanation for the sudden change in school policy, but those in a position to know best say the groups, such InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, are too evangelical.

"The real interesting thing is that Georgetown tossed these groups, but left the Muslim Student Alliance and the Jewish Student Alliance intact," French told WND. "This Christian college is giving more religious freedom to Muslims and Jews than to Christians."

He's glossing over some important distinctions. Neither the Muslim Student Alliance or the Jewish Student Alliance is part of the Affiliated Ministries program, which is what the university ended. Both are student groups, not outside ministries allowed to operate on campus. As for the notion that this gives "more religious freedom" to Muslims and Jews than to Christians, that's simply absurd. Georgetown is a private, Catholic university. That means it can make pretty much any such rules it chooses. No religious group has a right to operate there any more than they have a right to operate in someone's home. This is like claiming that if someone chooses to allow a Rabbi into his house but not Jimmy Swaggart he's "giving more religious freedom to Jews". No. The religious freedom here belongs to the private university. But the're really flogging this distinction:

That "gap" expands when the university's treatment of Jewish and Muslim organizations is added. One group is set up to "encourage" Jewish students to grow in their faith, a second is dedicated to "development and growth of the school's Muslim community," yet Christians evangelicals are banned.

"The only difference is that they are promoting different religions. But rather than celebrating this diversity, OCM has banished one religious tradition from campus," the letter said.

Complete nonsense, and exactly the type of exaggerated rhetoric we've come to expect from the ADF. No "religious tradition" has been banned from campus. Protestant students are not only still welcomed there, they can still form student groups there. This only affects those few outside religious groups that were classified as "affiliated ministries". French went even further in distorting reality in his arguments in this post at the National Review:

Georgetown is of course a private, Catholic school, but it has opened itself up to multiple religious viewpoints and proudly proclaims its religious diversity. In fact, the campus ministry website begins with big bold letters proclaiming, "Welcome. Shalom. Assalamu-Alaikum" (so much for a "distinctively Catholic" identity). The university also has a full-time Rabbi to serve Jewish groups, a full-time Imam to serve Muslim students, and has an ongoing relationship with Hillel, an outside Jewish student organization. Yet the university apparently does not want an evangelical presence on campus.

But guess what? The university also has a full time Protestant chaplain on campus, and will continue to have one. It even has an entire office that coordinates Protestant programs on campus. Remember, this decision only affects outside groups that were part of the Affiliated Ministries program, not all of which were evangelical in nature, so the notion that this is some sort of purge of evangelical groups is simply false. Students are still free to form their own Protestant groups, the university will continue to minister to Protestants, and in fact the university says this restructuring is part of a program to strengthen Georgetown's own Protestant campus ministry:

University spokesman Erik Smulson said that the decision to sever ties with the affiliate groups was part of a broad restructuring effort in the Office of Campus Ministry, which has altered its organizational structure in the hopes of creating a strong Protestant ministry within the campus. Many of the organizations affected by the new policy are Protestant.

"With this restructuring has come a desire in the Protestant Chaplaincy to build the ministry from within Georgetown and its Protestant student leaders rather than rely on outside groups or fellowships," Smulson said. "Hopefully this restructuring of the Chaplaincy will provide a more consistent and focused effort to work with the Protestant students to ensure that their spiritual needs are being met."

And all of their first amendment talk is simply nonsense:

French said the university, which is private, has the right to dictate who it wants on campus, but essentially it is staging a "bait-and-switch" with students and parents by proclaiming that they will enjoy "full religious freedom" on campus, when they won't.

"Come and spend your $120,000 and your child will enjoy the full range of First Amendment rights," he said the school pitch is. However, when the students arrive, the school has "yanked some of those critical rights."

Certainly an attorney who specializes in appellate law knows that he is lying here. There are no first amendment rights, critical or otherwise, at stake here. It's a private university acting under its own authority, not a government agency. And the students' rights to worship as they choose, form student groups, and so forth, are still entirely intact at Georgetown. The decision only affects what outside religious ministries are able to operate there. All of this is just typical of the exaggerated, irresponsible rhetoric that the ADF is becoming famous for.

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As you correctly noted, Ed, the ADF will lie and prevaricate in order to get attention and the mammon that goes with it.

Let's see if they do something crazy, like actually sue a Catholic university on behalf of protestants. Would be a colossally stupid move.

Wow! Christians (if one considers Catholics to be such) joining the War Against Christians on the anti-Christian side. What next? A President who defies the Constitution of the United States? It's clear Georgetown University has been taken over by the terrorists; we must proclaim a Crusade.

Very interesting. Some questions that come to mind include:

1. Is there an extant Protestant student group?

2. Say, would there happen to be any protestant universities in America which don't have or don't allow the equivalent of this "affiliated ministries" program that Georgetown is axing? What does the ADF think about those?

Good question. If Bob Jones University doesn't allow the American Humanist Association to operate on campus, by the ADF's "reasoning", they're violating the first amendment rights of students there.

Ed, you cite the passage below as a "lie" by Mr. French, which puts you squarely in the wrong. The quoted passage clearly coummunicates that it is the private university's representation regarding religious liberties that French addresses--he neither said nor insinuated that the First Amendment was legally binding on that private university. I enjoy your incisive substantive comments, but am reluctant to address them when you devolve into ad hominem attacks rooted in a blatant misreading of the text. Full disclosure to other readers: I am an ADF attorney.

Cited passage:
French said the university, which is private, has the right to dictate who it wants on campus, but essentially it is staging a "bait-and-switch" with students and parents by proclaiming that they will enjoy "full religious freedom" on campus, when they won't.
"Come and spend your $120,000 and your child will enjoy the full range of First Amendment rights," he said the school pitch is. However, when the students arrive, the school has "yanked some of those critical rights."

[Ed's reading of French's statement:]

Certainly an attorney who specializes in appellate law knows that he is lying here. There are no first amendment rights, critical or otherwise, at stake here. It's a private university acting under its own authority, not a government agency.

By Gary S. McCaleb (not verified) on 13 Oct 2006 #permalink

Grab the popcorn!

Gary-

I stand by what I said. A private university can't "yank" the first amendment rights of students, because you don't have first amendment rights against a private institution that you choose to attend. It's like claiming that if I don't let you cuss out my wife in my home, I've violated your first amendment rights. Certainly to claim that the university has "yanked" their "critical first amendment rights" is implying that "the First Amendment was legally binding on that private university." If it's not binding, then how could the university possibly have "yanked" them? This is pure doubletalk.

On a related note, last year our local Southern Baptist College (Mars Hill College) was requested by students to recognize a support group for gay students, essentially a gay/straight alliance, but purely independent. They didn't ask for money, a meeting place, or anything else, just recognition.

The vote for recognition failed in the student senate, and the state Baptist Convention threatened to cut its funding because the vote was close.

These things happen, but there is no agenda I know of, unless cluelessness counts as an agenda.

Gary--

...but essentially it is staging a "bait-and-switch" with students and parents by proclaiming that they will enjoy "full religious freedom" on campus, when they won't.

In what way are the students not enjoying religious freedom?

What's being banned, as Ed explains, is not Protestant Christianity or the expression thereof, or even student groups based around Protestant Christianity. What's being banned is outside groups.

What the students are being restricted from doing is participating in various outside groups while on campus. That's quite a different thing than not being given religious freedom!

Indeed, I suspect if some extreme form of Jewish or Muslim advocacy group were operating on campus, they too would be asked to leave.

-Rob

This is actually not unprecedented or surprising. Harvard has (or, at least, had) a similar ban on all outside organizations operating under their own name on campus. While groups such as Intervarsity and the American Red Cross can have a presence on campus, it is only through properly organized student groups with names like "Harvard Radcliffe Christian Fellowship" and "Harvard Friends of the American Red Cross". I believe it was part of their decision to ban fraternities, sororities, etc. It never seemed to bother the students much, who were still free to affiliate with national organizations, and prevented groups with no real ties to the school or obligation to operate under it's rules, from coming in and causing problems.

It's worth noting that nothing about this policy prevented unaffiliated groups from performing outreach to Harvard students, just that they couldn't use school resources or act with the imprimatur of the "Harvard" name. I wouldn't be surprised if Georgetown were adopting or ultimately chooses to adopt a similar policy towards religious and secular organizations.

Gary S. McCaleb | October 13, 2006 02:54 PM

If Ed's characterization of what Georgetown is severing its relationships with--"affiliated ministries" that are outside religious ministries that were allowed to have a presence on campus--is correct, it strikes me that your "free speech" issue goes away. According to your complaint, that Georgetown proclaims that students and their parents will enjoy "full religious freedom" on campus, is off the mark. According to your formulation, Georgetown does not proclaim that outside parties, such as the "affiliated ministries" are allowed access to the campus to exercise their religious freedom, merely that students and their parents are allowed to exercise their religious freedom. There is a difference.

Quite frankly, it would strike me as being a bit odd if a Catholic institution would allow outside organizations on campus to proselytize for Protestant denominations, but that's just me.