Princeton recognizes Christian group initially denied campus sanction

May 11, 2005

PRINCETON, N.J. — After being initially rebuffed by a Princeton University official, a group of evangelical Christian students who wanted access to facilities and the chance to apply for funds has won a victory.

After the university’s dean of religious life refused recognition for Princeton Faith and Action, the group appealed to a campus rights group that successfully lobbied the university to change its procedures.

“We found Princeton’s quick and fair response very encouraging. We’ve found other colleges who haven’t been particularly fair to religious groups, sometimes in an unconstitutional way,” said Greg Lukianoff, an official with the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Princeton Faith and Action has now been recognized as a student group, religious groups are being treated that same as secular groups, and the university will conduct a review of procedures related to student organizations, said Princeton Provost Christopher L. Eisgruber.

“We need to be welcoming groups, even if their opinions are unorthodox, and that is the goal of our review,” Eisgruber said.

Princeton Faith and Action was formed by a group of about 30 students associated with the off-campus Christian Union, which on its Web site describes its mission as “advancing the kingdom of Jesus Christ in the Ivy League.”

The group in March applied to a student government committee for recognition as an official campus group, but was instead referred to the dean of religious life, Thomas E. Breidenthal, who turned down their application.

According to PFA’s leaders, Breidenthal turned down PFA because he did not want to recognize a group associated with the Christian Union. He declined to elaborate, PFA said.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education contacted Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman, who acknowledged in an April 22 letter that Faith and Action should be given the same consideration as any other.

“We guarantee that university recognition will not be withheld from any group pursuing lawful objectives merely because its aims may seem unorthodox,” Tilghman said in the letter.

The group was allowed to go back to the student government committee and was approved last Friday.

Contacted Wednesday by The Associated Press, Breidenthal referred questions to Eisgruber.

An officer from Princeton Faith and Action did not return calls seeking comment. But Matt Bennett, the Christian Union’s president, said he was encouraged by the university’s decision.

“It shows how they’re making whatever changes are necessary for religious freedom,” Bennett said.

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Schools: Princeton University Cases: Princeton University: Refusal to Recognize Religious Group