5 Professors Quit Religious School

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 19, 2006

Nearly a third of the faculty members at Patrick Henry College in Loudoun County are leaving the school because of what they described as limitations on their academic freedom, causing unusual introspection at the politically connected Christian liberal arts college.

They claim that Patrick Henry College, established in 2000 to attract academically gifted home-schoolers with the hope of send them on to work on Capitol Hill or at the White House, does not value equally both parts of its mission: to offer students a strong biblical perspective while educating them according to a classical liberal arts curriculum. In one case, the professors said, faculty members were reprimanded for writing that the Bible "is not the only source of truth."

"I'm leaving the college because I want freedom," said David C. Noe, assistant professor of classics. He said he came to Patrick Henry in its first year expecting to find "a liberal arts college that will be the new Ivy League" -- as the school bills itself -- but instead found a place where classical works by non-Christian authors are sometimes considered suspect and where there is an increasingly narrow view of Christianity.

The departure of five of the school's 16 full-time professors follows the forced resignation last year of Jeremy Hunley, a library clerk who promoted the idea that baptism is essential for salvation, a violation of the 10-point statement of faith that all faculty members and students are required to sign when they come to Patrick Henry. According to the statement, and to many evangelical Christians, salvation is found only through faith in Jesus Christ.

The rebellion reflects the recurring tension at many Christian colleges between adherence to articles of faith and the free-ranging spirit of academic inquiry. Some departing faculty, alumni and students say it calls into question the future of a college that was established as an "evangelical Ivy League" that would prepare conservative Christian students for influential positions in government.

College President Michael P. Farris, a lawyer and home-schooling advocate who founded the Purcellville school, said Patrick Henry is a place that encourages "a free flow of ideas" beyond some core principles on which everyone must agree -- principles such as the existence of God and Satan and the infallibility of the Bible.

"The only problem I have when there are two schools of thought is that there are too few," he said.

But Noe and government instructor Erik S. Root, who is also leaving, said that they have encountered additional "arbitrary limitations" set by the president when they raised issues that do not contradict the belief statement.

Root said his contract was temporarily withdrawn this spring in part because of an article he wrote for a school publication about a Christian saint that prompted the president to question his loyalty to a biblical worldview. In a letter to Root, Farris questioned whether Root shared the views of a Darwinist he had quoted. Root called Farris's concerns "guilt by association."

Noe co-authored an article in March arguing that the Bible is not the only source of truth and that students can learn valuable lessons from non-Christian writings. The 900-word story led to a 2,600-word response by the chaplain -- endorsed by the administration -- detailing its "harmful implications" and saying it "diminished the importance of" Scripture.

Noe, who has been ordained by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, said that the article was not meant to challenge the Bible but to defend liberal arts.

The college has ambitions to place conservative Christian graduates in positions of influence, where they will help reshape American culture. Since the school opened six years ago, its student body has grown from 88 students to 300, and it has sent students to prized internships at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

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