Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Members of several outside Protestant ministries recently barred from the campus of Georgetown University yesterday began a petition drive appealing the decision by school administrators.

“We’re not trying to be hostile in any way,” said Matt Bjonerud, a Georgetown senior and a leader of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, one of six ministries banned from having an official presence at the Catholic school. “We’re simply letting people know we think we’re an important and vital part of the Georgetown community.”

About 15 members of affected ministries — all Protestant groups, although some, such as InterVarsity, also have Catholic members — began passing out fliers to students in Georgetown’s Red Square at 10 a.m. yesterday, the first day of classes.

The fliers summarize the decision made by Georgetown’s Office of Campus Ministry, which prohibits the groups from having any official “activity or presence” on campus, including worship services and retreats.

The groups also are prohibited from using the Georgetown name in publicity. Students still can hold Bible studies and worship services on their own, but cannot do so on campus using the ministries’ names.

“We feel that our freedoms are sort of being restricted by this,” said Jeff Davis, a senior and member of Crossroad Campus Christian Fellowship, another ejected group.

As many as 300 students are affected by the decision.

Members also asked students to sign petitions addressed to school administrators and stating that the school’s “decision seems inconsistent with the very ideals that Georgetown seeks to uphold, such as interreligious dialogue, pluralism and diversity.”

By the end of the drive at 5 p.m., 401 students had signed the petitions.

“I feel like there should be a hand-in-hand partnership in making decisions that affect the student body and practicing religion,” said Matt Hicks, a freshman who signed a petition.

School officials notified ministry leaders of the ban at an Aug. 17 meeting, where the school’s Protestant chaplains distributed a letter and said that they made the decision because the Office of Campus Ministry could not control their message.

Georgetown spokesman Erik Smulson said that the groups were removed because of a restructuring of Georgetown’s Protestant chaplaincy, which oversaw the groups, and that the decision was based on the desire to unify Protestant students under university leadership.

“The conversation has begun on how to meet the students’ needs within the structure of Campus Ministry, instead of relying on numerous outside organizations,” Mr. Smulson said yesterday.

Ministry leaders said the meeting was a culmination of growing tensions between the two sides in recent years about what the groups were teaching and conditions the groups were required to follow in order to have a presence on campus.

At the meeting, ministry leaders said the Rev. Patrick D. Rogers, Georgetown’s Roman Catholic chaplain, used a hypothetical example about a group that could come in and advocate “bombing the Palestinians” as a way of illustrating the school’s desire to control what messages are taught on campus.

“It was kind of the off-the-cuff example of craziness that some crazy group might say,” InterVarsity leader Shawn Galyen said, noting that Father Rogers did not say the groups were teaching that message. “But he also said ‘We can’t control what you do or say.’”

Meanwhile, ministry members said they will continue to meet for Bible study and worship, either under group banners off campus or unofficially on campus. Mr. Davis said Crossroad members will be attending meetings at George Washington University.

The ministries also plan to hold a worship service in Georgetown’s Red Square tomorrow.

“We will continue to have small groups, Bible studies and times of prayer and worship,” said Hannah Coyne, a Georgetown senior and Chi Alpha leader. “We’re students, and we can do what we want in our rooms.”

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