Christian group booted from campus for harassment

Thursday, December 10, 1998

A Christian ministry group at the University of Cincinnati has been banned from campus for a year.

In November, the public university's Student Activities Board received complaints that members of Campus Advance, a group affiliated with the International Churches of Christ, had engaged in harassing recruitment practices. At a hearing before the board on Nov. 18, students provided testimony of incidents they described as harassment.

Members of Campus Advance were asked to defend their actions at a second hearing last week, but no one from the group showed up.

The board yesterday sent a letter to the group's adviser and president informing them that the group was suspended as a campus organization for one year.

“The Student Activities Board finds that members of Campus Advance have engaged in acts of harassment as outlined by the University of Cincinnati's Student Code of Conduct,” the board wrote in its letter. “The group therefore loses all rights and privileges associated with being a registered student group.”

Greg Hand, a University of Cincinnati spokesman, said that the group was immediately barred from identifying itself as a university group and from operating on campus.

Initially the board thought Campus Advance was the same group as one called Christians on Campus, which was suspended from school grounds 10 years ago. That group, like Campus Advance, was associated with the International Churches of Christ. The ICC follows a literal reading of the Bible and is known for in-your-face recruitment tactics.

Though the board did not determine that Campus Advance is the same group, it did find the group's conduct had “the effect of unreasonably interfering with an identifiable individual's work or academic performance or of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work or learning environment for that individual.”

Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, took interest in the university's investigation of the group. Greenwood has said the university may be breaching the group's First Amendment right to practice religion freely.

“The university would be ill-advised to suspend this group based on its religious activity,” Greenwood said. “The First Amendment protects them even if they're irritating or obnoxious.”

Hand said the activities board did not discriminate against the group because of its religion.

“This was about rules governing students and organizations,” Hand said. “If the Chemistry Club was engaging in recruitment methods like Campus Advance, then the board would be removing it as a university organization.”

Stephanie Gilbertson, assistant director of graduate programs in teacher education and the Campus Advance adviser, said the group would not comment because it did not see the ruling by the activities board as important.