Political project restrictions denied

April 28, 2005

The University Senate narrowly voted to amend guidelines proposed by the Service-Learning Ad-Hoc Committee Tuesday, rejecting limitations on political activities that would ban projects partisan in nature.

That decision was accompanied by a vote to preserve the restrictions on religious activity.

The Senate voted 20-18 to remove the political restrictions, while the amendment removing religious restrictions failed 10-27. University Senate still must vote on whether to approve the amended guidelines at its May 10 meeting.

The pair of decisions shattered the parallel the ad-hoc committee had drawn between religious and political activity, a move senators who served on the committee opposed.

“Partisan activity, whether religious or political, doesn’t have any place in this whole Service-Learning scheme of things,” Senator and ad-hoc committee member Mitch Freymiller said.

But the decisions also forged a new parallel – one between the proposed guidelines before University Senate and a resolution Student Senate passed on the issue the night before.

Senator Bobby Pitts said limiting certain types of political activity, regardless of the agendas involved, was too restrictive.

“I wondered ‘what is left?’ ” he said.

Later, during the debate over religious proselytization, Pitts suggested removing restrictions on religious activity as well.

Senator Steven Majstorovic referred to the U.S. Constitution as the main justification for breaking the parallel drawn between partisan political and religious activities, saying America’s founding fathers viewed political and religious expression as very different.

Citing a case in which a Wisconsin district court decided organizations could not use government money for religious proselytization, Senator Selika Ducksworth-Lawton denounced allowing activities that promoted religious ideas to count toward Service-Learning hours.

“We are allowing religious service,” she said. “What you can’t do is go out and tell people they are going to hell and get credit for it.”

Senator Kent Syverson said the section in the guidelines that stipulates projects must involve willing recipients takes care of door-to-door harassment over religious ideas. He also said the separation of church and state is not relevant to a discussion of Service-Learning, which he said, is a curricular issue, not a legal one.

Syverson referred to a letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights Education (FIRE), which denounced any legal basis for the restriction of religious Service-Learning activity.

Tom Hilton, a professor of MIS and ad-hoc committee member who attended the meeting, said a lawyer from System Legal told him students are not “agents of the university,” because they are not paid for their service.

Syverson said by that logic, allowing activity that promotes a religious doctrine does not mean the university itself is promoting that doctrine.

Senator Scott Whitfield countered by saying students are paid for their service in Service-Learning credit, which constitutes an endorsement of project activities.

Debate over restricting religious proselytization also carried over into the academic realm, as senators debated whether or not the promotion of political or religious ideas served the purpose of Service-Learning.

Senator and ad-hoc committee member Cheryl Mueller said projects involving the promotion of political or religious doctrine leave no room for critical thinking, make learning one-dimensional and may not necessarily serve the common good.

“A student should be able to look at one side, as well as its opposition,” she said.

Syverson said critical thinking is inherent in any sort of environment, even that which is promoting a certain belief or doctrine. He used the teaching of Sunday school as an example, saying the interaction involved in teaching religion is just as beneficial as any other sort of education.

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