Christian group’s status renewed following stir

March 7, 2009

Campus Bible Fellowship (CBF) on Wright State University’s campus recently received renewed recognition as a registered student organization following an apparent conflict with university officials during the annual renewal process.

According to a press release issued earlier this month by national advocacy group the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Wright State University banned CBF from meeting on campus because of the group’s requirement that voting members be Christian and its refusal to accept the university’s ‘nondiscrimination’ language that would eliminate faith-based standards for its voting members. In response, the Campus Bible Fellowship turned to FIRE for help, according to the release.

Also as contained in the release: "After more than 30 years of existence as a registered student organization at Wright State, the Campus Bible Fellowship (CBF) was prohibited from re-registering in 2009. On January 30, according to CBF representatives Joe Hollaway and Gary Holtz, CBF was informed by Wright State’s Office of Student Activities that its registration was being denied for two reasons. First, CBF refused to adopt university-mandated nondiscrimination language in its membership requirements that would have stripped the group of the right to require voting members to adhere to religious and behavioral standards. (Nonvoting members did not have to meet these standards). Second, Wright State objected to the requirement in CBF’s constitution that voting members ‘accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior’ and subscribe to the group’s articles of faith. Strangely, however, Wright State has so far refused to put this decision in writing."

Dr. Dan Abrahamowicz, Vice President for Student Affairs at Wright State University, said this week that the group was not banned from campus.

Abrahamowicz said that, every year, groups have to resubmit their respective constitutions and be reauthorized as recognized university organizations

Last May, he said, 200 groups went through the process and CBF did not submit the necessary materials.

The vice president for student affairs said there was "some confusion" and, upon further review, the university granted renewal of recognition to the group.

"We have to take some responsibility for not being clear," Abrahamowicz said.

However, he said, CBF apparently ignored the university’s grievance processes and the FIRE press release claiming the group had been banned was a surprise to WSU officials.

There are 14 religious groups on campus, Abrahamowicz said.

On Jan. 30, CBF submitted their renewal paperwork and Feb. 12, the university was contaced by FIRE, he said.

As the matter stands at present, Abrahamowicz said, CBF is admitted as every other group with recognition through the Student Activities Office, the necessary paperwork has been addressed to make sure the files are in order, and CBF has been given clear instructions for the next renewal process.

FIRE Vice President Robert L. Shibley, based in Philadelphia, said this week that he does not think the matter has been resolved because, if the university does not change its policy before the next renewal process, the recent situation is likely to repeat itself.

"They did the right thing recognizing (CBF) for (the time being)," he said.

Shibley said the issue is not a simple paperwork mixup – rather the matter at hand is a constitutional objection to one of Wright State’s requirements, he said.

To the best of Shibley’s knowledge, he said, the ‘non-descrimination language’ still will be required next fall.

The FIRE vice president said he has not heard from other groups at Wright State University regarding CBF’s situation, yet they are not alone elsewhere in the nation.

"Forced adoption of that language is not a novel problem," Shibley said.

Wright State also has not made any written responses to any of FIRE’s letters or questions, and the group wants written responses to questions, he said.

Schools: Wright State University Cases: Wright State University: Christian Group Banned from Campus