Bowdoin rebuts New York Times report that college stripped Christian group of campus status

Posted June 12, 2014, at 12:18 p.m.
Last modified June 12, 2014, at 2 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Bowdoin College officials on Wednesday disputed a front-page story in Tuesday’s New York Times that reported the college would no longer recognize an evangelical student organization after its leaders and students refused to sign an anti-discrimination agreement.

“In a collision between religious freedom and antidiscrimination policies, the student group, and its advisers, have refused to agree to the college’s demand that any student, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, should be able to run for election as a leader of any group, including the Christian association,” Times reporter Michael Paulson wrote.

The group in question is the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

Just afternoon on Tuesday, the college posted a statement on its website insisting, “Religious freedom and spirituality are alive and thriving at Bowdoin.”

“Contrary to the Times article, the college continues to recognize the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF) and has no plans to drop that recognition after this summer,” the statement reads.

Bowdoin spokesman Scott Hood told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday that the college had “taken no steps to ‘unrecognize’ Bowdoin Christian Fellowship. The error — it’s semantics, I suppose — is that they reported that we have cut their recognition.”

Hood said the BCF this spring submitted a required charter to Bowdoin Student Government leaders, who are elected by their peers. The draft charter included a mission statement that listed two 2014 graduates as leaders and advisers Sim and Robert Gregory as volunteers.

Based in part on the Gregorys’ refusal to sign the college’s nondiscrimination policy, student government leaders deemed the charter unacceptable, according to Hood. The Christian group then withdrew its charter.

Without recognition by the college, student groups are not eligible for funding from student government and cannot use such college facilities as the MultiCultural Center or the chapel.

“Folks in Student Affairs have every expectation that when students return in the fall, whoever is in the BCF will submit a charter,” Hood said. “And if they don’t then they can do what they want off campus.”

But Paulson said the students he contacted have no plan to sign the agreement, and plan to meet informally — perhaps off-campus — in the fall.

In February, The Bowdoin Orient reported that Robert and Sim Gregory, who served as volunteer advisers to the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship for nearly a decade, declined to sign a new volunteer agreement introduced by the college last fall that requires volunteers to comply with college policies, including prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, sex or sexual orientation, among other factors.

“The Gregorys said that signing the nondiscrimination policy would violate their faith and the Christian gospel they teach, specifically their scriptural interpretations of sexuality,” the student paper reported.

“The Bible teaches that human sexuality is expected to find its fulfillment inside of the twoness of persons and the twoness of genders,” Robert Gregory reportedly told the Orient.

The Gregorys advised an undergraduate student ministry at Bowdoin through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, a national association of evangelical campus groups.

According to the Orient, “Though BCF has welcomed LGBTIQA-identified [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning and Allied-Identified] students into its group over the years, InterVarsity has a national reputation for refusing to let LGBTIQ students hold leadership positions in its campus chapters. “

On Wednesday, Robert Gregory would say only, “We’ll honor the college request. We’re going to do our work off campus if that’s what they want.”

Hood said Wednesday that every other student organization with outside volunteers, including seven faith-based groups, signed the agreement. College officials could not provide a specific number of groups that have outside volunteers, but Bowdoin — with an enrollment of about 1,800 students — has more than 100 student groups. Many are advised by college staff, who are required to comply with the anti-discrimination agreement as a condition of employment.

“Bowdoin College students have the right to be members of any Bowdoin College student organization. Bowdoin College students have the right to seek — that’s an important word — to seek a leadership position in any Bowdoin College student organization,” Hood said. “What we’re talking about here is people who are members of the community or region, who are not part of the college, who are coming in and deciding who can be a leader, who can be a member, who can do something within a Bowdoin College student organization. That is not OK with us.”

Reached by phone Wednesday, Paulson told the Bangor Daily News, “There’s a real tension between the college’s deeply held commitment to making sure no group discriminates against any student and the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship’s deep concern that the people who lead it need to share the basic Christian doctrine.”

Bates College in Lewiston does not require student groups or leaders to sign any type of nondiscrimination pledge when submitting its constitution to student government for consideration, college spokesman Kent Fischer said, although student government does ensure prospective groups “draft fair and inclusive constitutions that set the groups up for future success.”

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