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Brown University Agrees to Reinstate Suspended Religious Organization, But Concerns Remain

Brown University has promised to take the initial steps in helping the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) gain reaffiliation with the University’s Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life (OCRL). A statement that Brown’s Media Relations office put up on the Brown website reads:

The University welcomes the contributions RUF has made to the spiritual life of the campus and has offered to assist RUF in taking the necessary steps to have its affiliation restored.

The University hopes this process can be completed in the near future so that RUF will regain its affiliation before the beginning of next semester.

OCRL derecognized RUF in September under dubious pretenses. First, OCRL claimed that Trinity Presbyterian Church had withdrawn its support for RUF; this was patently false and Trinity senior pastor David Sherwood immediately e-mailed OCRL to assert the church’s support for RUF. Then OCRL claimed that RUF had not been a recognized student organization since the previous year because RUF’s then-adviser had failed to punctually submit the proper paperwork (even though RUF’s current adviser had turned in this year’s paperwork in a timely manner). OCRL also claimed that RUF’s leadership had created a “culture of contempt and dishonesty,” but never responded to RUF’s request for specific examples of contemptuous and dishonest conduct.

While FIRE is pleased that OCRL has opted to reexamine its unethical suspension of RUF, concerns remain. OCRL never explained why it suspended RUF in the first place. Furthermore, The Providence Journal reported today that OCRL has laid out four steps that the fellowship must take to be reinstated, including filing forms on time and communicating with “full transparency.” It is unclear what the university means by “full transparency” or whether the four steps are normal for student group recognition at Brown or designed specifically for RUF. Brown has so far been disingenuous in its treatment of RUF by making accusations that the university was unable or unwilling to back up with facts. FIRE intends to see this case to a just conclusion; the university owes RUF either full recognition with its accompanying rights or an explanation for why RUF is being held to different standards.

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