Monday, November 23, 2015

"College Presidents Defend Importance of Free Speech"

In an article by that title, I was pleased to see presidents at Yale, Williams(Massachusetts)and, Wesleyan College speaking up for the necessity of free speech on college campuses. This discussion has come about due to some widely reported incidents of student groups protesting and even forcing the cancellation of speakers expressing ideas for which they disagreed.

Those of us in the community that advocates and works in the area of Christian college ministry should be defenders of free speech. First, as part of our basic ideas as a country, but selfishly in that when speech is free on campus, it continues to leave the door open for our Christian message to be shared. Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech are two closely tied concepts, I believe.

That means for all of us we will hear things with which we don't agree. But, for a college campus to be a genuine place of learning and not just indoctrination, there must be a wide variety of views expressed....done in a respectful way.

In my view, I believe those campuses that have told Christian groups they cannot determine the qualifications for their groups elected student leaders have violated not only the Freedom of Religion principle, but also the spirit of our belief in Freedom of Speech. It does not mean the college administration or all religious groups agree with those qualifications. But, we respect their right to determine who their leaders are and what beliefs they hold and speak.

Some years ago, as a recognized student organization, we requested the use of the Student Center Ballroom (the largest meeting space available on campus) for a one night special speaker. Each recognized student organization could use it once or twice a year. The man in charge of the scheduling told me he did not want to do it. He said if he let our religious group use it, he would have to let "some religious group dancing around with horns on their heads use it and you wouldn't like that.". He was stunned when I told him I thought they had every right to do that. That didn't mean I agreed with their message.

The Associated Press article (November 23, 2015)quoted Williams President Adam Falk as saying, "I think that our students probably more so than than previous generations, come to college having been marinated in a media environment that does not foster productive conversation across disagreements. That means it is even more important that colleges find ways to work with students to teach them that and model that for them."

Those of us doing Christian college ministry must be part of these conversations. We can't be afraid to express our ideas and beliefs and expect that opportunity to be extended to us.....even as we allow others to say things with which we don't agree.

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