Victory for Religious Liberty at Brown University: RUF Reinstated

February 1, 2007

PROVIDENCE, R.I., February 1, 2007—Brown University has finally lifted its semester-long suspension of the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) student group. As of last week, the RUF has been restored to its previous status as a recognized student group and held its first on-campus meeting of the school year on Sunday. Brown’s decision to reinstate the group came after months of public pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

“We are pleased that Brown is letting RUF return to campus this semester,” FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley said. “Brown has still neither explained its actions nor acknowledged that it suspended the RUF on dubious grounds, but FIRE welcomes the decision nonetheless.”

FIRE first reported in November that Brown’s Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life (OCRL) suspended the evangelical student organization for reasons that remained unclear throughout the course of the suspension. OCRL representatives changed their explanation of RUF’s supposed misdeeds several times, first saying that the RUF’s sponsoring church had withdrawn its sponsorship. When the church’s pastor refuted that claim, the OCRL then said the group had been suspended since the previous semester because its leader failed to file paperwork on time. Brown’s final justification was simply that the group maintained a “culture of contempt.” When FIRE questioned Brown’s suspension in a letter on October 27, 2006, OCRL representatives never furnished a solid explanation for their actions.

On November 20, after weeks of public pressure, OCRL Director the Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson sent RUF President Ethan Wingfield a letter saying her office would help the group through the re-affiliation process for the spring semester. The RUF met with OCRL representatives, submitted the necessary paperwork, and was allowed to hold its first on-campus meeting of the academic year on January 28, 2007. Although the RUF does not yet have the final paperwork in hand, the group is now able to reserve meeting space on campus and is once again fully operational.

The RUF’s religious life affiliate Eddie Park says he is eager to put the suspension behind him and looks forward to working together with the OCRL and the religious community at Brown. Park told FIRE, “RUF is thankful for the chance to resume our activities of worshipping together and creating a community for our student members.”

“Religious liberty and fair procedures are essential at any university that claims to respect its students’ rights. Unfortunately, ignoring those rights is a frequent occurrence on many campuses,” FIRE’s Shibley said. “We hope that next time Brown will think twice before so haphazardly suspending a student group.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Brown can be viewed at www.thefire.org/brown.

CONTACT:

Robert Shibley, Vice President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; robert@thefire.org
Ruth J. Simmons, President, Brown University: 401-863-2234; president@brown.edu
Janet Cooper Nelson, Director of the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life, Brown University: 401-863-2344; Janet_Cooper-Nelson@brown.edu.

Schools: Brown University Cases: Brown University: Wrongful Suspension of Religious Student Group