- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

PURCELLVILLE, Va. — Two members of a homosexual-rights group were arrested yesterday during a protest outside Patrick Henry College for trespassing on the campus after they were warned they were not welcome.

Soulforce, a Lynchburg, Va.-based homosexual-rights group, stopped at the Christian college during the second year of the group’s nationwide “Equality Ride” tour, which organizers say is inspired by the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s.

College administrators had told Soulforce members they were not welcome on campus, but offered to send students to participate in an off-campus debate about the proposed federal marriage amendment.

Tour organizer Jarrett Lucas and member Joshua Polycarpe were arrested for trespassing, a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $2,500 fine, Loudoun County Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson said.

“We’re not here to debate — we’re here to reconcile being gay and Christian,” Mr. Polycarpe told reporters prior to his arrest.

“Human rights should not be a debate,” Mr. Lucas said.

Demonstrators were met by more than 75 law-enforcement officials from the Town of Purcellville Police Department, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department and Virginia State Police.

Other than the arrests, the demonstration occurred without incident.

The 25 Soulforce members were joined by about a dozen community members as they lined up outside the college’s main gate to pray, sing and hold signs.

“We’re here to keep vigil — to reflect that there is a silence in the school,” Mr. Lucas said.

Organizers said the national tour, which has East and West Coast components, is an effort to spread Christianity’s message of love and inclusion for all of God’s children.

“We’re asking [the school] to live up to our name,” Mr. Lucas said. “Christianity was founded on principles of inclusion.”

Whether Patrick Henry administrators and students approve of homosexuality, it’s important to start a dialogue among future neighbors, coworkers and leaders of America, member Robin Padrika Reynolds said.

“Our children may go to school together one day,” she said.

Patrick Henry sophomore Justin Reddington said the group’s assumptions reinforce stereotypes about the school.

“They think we’ve been sheltered — that we’re ignorant home-schoolers,” Mr. Reddington said.

Administrators didn’t forbid the college’s roughly 300 students from interacting with Soulforce members, but asked them to go about their day normally, college spokesman David Halbrook said.

Sophomore Justin Jenkins said he would have been willing to meet with Soulforce members for the administration’s proposed off-campus debate.

“But not in this context,” he said. “I believe what they’re doing is destructive, but God loves them. I love them.”

Chancellor Michael Farris said the group’s real objective is to silence dissenting voices, not dialogue.

“Our voice coincides with their God-given conscience,” Mr. Farris told reporters at a press conference, adding that the group eschewed the invitation for “a real discussion” for an “emotional street-theater episode.”

A group called the Concerned Alumni of Patrick Henry issued a statement yesterday afternoon decrying the administration’s response of “overwhelming force, rather than dialogue and engagement.”

Three activists were arrested for trespassing at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. last month. The tour plans to stop at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., today.

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