Ministry Groups' Ejection Protested

Ben Spatz, 25, looks over a letter protesting the removal of private ministry groups from the Georgetown campus while Hannah Coyne, 21, gives reasons for signing it.
Ben Spatz, 25, looks over a letter protesting the removal of private ministry groups from the Georgetown campus while Hannah Coyne, 21, gives reasons for signing it. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 31, 2006

Some evangelical students at Georgetown University spent the first day of classes yesterday collecting 400 signatures from people who said they were displeased that the school had ejected several private ministry groups from campus.

The students are members of six private, evangelical ministries, including the well-known international student organization InterVarsity. The Campus Ministry informed the private groups this month that they would be losing privileges they have had for years, such as the right to reserve large rooms and use the Georgetown name in advertising.

Officials of the Catholic university said that they felt unable to keep track of precisely how the groups were ministering to students and that group officials had not attended school-run religious services as they were required to. School spokesman Erik Smulson characterized the decision as administrative, saying Georgetown wants to boost its own programs for Protestant students, who make up a fifth of the student population.

But students and officials with the private ministry groups said the Campus Ministry in recent years has become more controlling and concerned about evangelizing. The groups were required to sign statements saying they would not proselytize, said Kevin Offner, who runs the InterVarsity group at Georgetown for graduate students.

InterVarsity has retained the services of a legal center that works to protect the on-campus rights of evangelicals. David French, who runs the Center for Academic Freedom, said yesterday that in recent years, "dozens of schools" across the country have tried to eject private evangelical groups that have conservative views on social issues.

The 300 students who belong to the six Georgetown groups are upset that they may have to move off campus to keep the same access to the leadership and resources of the national organizations. Some students have met with administrators from the Protestant Chaplaincy, which is within the Campus Ministry.

Nathanael Oakes, 21, a senior and member of InterVarsity, said volunteers yesterday had handed out about 500 fliers to students explaining the groups' position and had received 400 signatures on "letters of concern." The letters will be delivered to the president and the Campus Ministry.

"Administrators and teachers and students [who signed the letters] say they are concerned with the religious implications. What does freedom of religion mean?" Oakes said.

And Offner said, "We want the Protestant groups to have the same rights as the Jewish groups or the Muslim groups."

The school says that evangelical groups aren't being singled out and that other private faith organizations represented on campus are run by or advised by Georgetown staff -- unlike InterVarsity, Crossroad Campus Christian Fellowship and Chi Alpha Fellowship, three of the six groups.

Yesterday, Smulson said a "conversation has begun" between the students in the private groups and the Campus Ministry.

"The discussion at this point is focusing on how Campus Ministry can meet their needs with the resources of the school," he said. "We are hoping instead of relying on numerous outside groups to meet the needs of the groups without outside staff."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company