Bucknell University requires permit to hand out Bibles

June 11, 2009

Giving away Bibles on the campus of Bucknell University is at your own peril, since the school requires a permit for such an activity, according to a new dispute that arose involving the school’s Conservatives Club.

The organization has attempted to make several political statements on campus, and has been shut down by officials with the university repeatedly, said a complaint letter assembled by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The revelation of other permit demand for giving away Bibles came as part of an e-mail exchange over the dispute, in which school administrator Judy Mickanis told the leader of the Bucknell University Conservatives Club that its members needed a "sales and solicitation" permit to give away anything.

"The policy is in place to protect the entire BU community and I said that consistently permission was needed to hand out anything from Bibles to other matter. You just can’t hand things out without approval," Mickanis’ e-mail said.

According to the report from FIRE, the school in Lewisburg, Pa., is staging an assault on student rights.

The Conservatives there have had "three events censored in two months" in their attempts to make political statements by a university "using flimsy or patently false excuses," the report said.

"Bucknell promises free speech, but it delivers selective censorship," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "Bucknell administrators have gone out of their way to abuse and even invent policies in attempts to silence these students, all the while professing to respect free speech."

He said the student group in March tried to hand out fake dollar bills with President Obama’s face on the front and the sentence "Obama’s stimulus plan makes your money as worthless as monopoly money" on the back. Mickanis told the students they were "busted" and they needed a special permit for their "solicitation." She told the students their offense was the equivalent of handing out Bibles, FIRE said.

"Distributing protest literature is an American free-speech tradition that dates to before the founding of the United States," said Adam Kissel, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. "And why is Bucknell so afraid of students handing out ‘Bibles [or] other matter’ that might provide challenging perspectives?"

Another incident happened in April, when students were staging an "affirmative action bake sale" protest. FIRE said affirmative action bake sales are a widely used form of satirical protest against affirmative action policies that treat people of different races differently. Organizers typically display suggested pricing in which African-American and Hispanic students are asked to pay lower prices than Asian and white students for the same items. The protests are thus intended to satirize and spark debate about affirmative action policies, not to raise revenue.

But Associate Dean of Students Gerald W. Commerford shut down the event, with orders to the students to obtain another permit. When students applied for one, they were refused permission.

FIRE said by shutting down events by Conservatives Club members, "Bucknell sends the message to its students that speech is to be feared, monitored, and ultimately restrained if it is deemed sufficiently controversial."

Bucknell declined to comment to WND on the issues, but delivered a statement from General Counsel Wayne Bromfield that challenged FIRE’s description of the events. He explained the "dollar bills" were disallowed because students must register to participate in that activity.

The second instance, "disparate racial pricing for doughnut sales – was prohibited because we cannot and do not permit facially discriminatory practices," the lawyer said.

The school declined to comment or expand on the statements from Mickanis that giving away Bibles would require a permit.

FIRE said the school’s version of events didn’t align with what it had been told by participants.

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Schools: Bucknell University Cases: Bucknell University: University Slams Door on Student Satires of Obama Stimulus Plan and Affirmative Action