University of Cincinnati scrutinizes Christian group’s activities

Wednesday, December 2, 1998

Officials at the University of Cincinnati are trying to decide whether a Christian ministry group should be allowed to continue operating on campus.

In late November, the Student Activities Board led a hearing to discover whether Campus Advance, affiliated with the Cincinnati Church of Christ, was actually the same group — though with a different moniker, Christians on Campus — that was removed from campus 10 years ago for violating the public university's student code of conduct.

Christians on Campus was booted from the public university's grounds for repeatedly subverting student rules against harassing others, according to Greg Hand, a University of Cincinnati spokesman.

Hand said that even if the Student Activities Board decided that Campus Advance was not the same group, it still could bar the group from campus because at last week's hearing the group was accused by students of aggressive recruitment tactics.

“During the hearings, a number of students presented complaints that the behavior of Campus Advance members amounted to harassment,” Hand said.

The Student Activities Board had set another hearing for yesterday to allow members of Campus Advance a chance to defend their practices. Hand said no one from the group showed up and that the activities board would now rule whether the group may operate on campus. The board has about a week to rule, Hand said.

“We have regularly suspended student groups who violated the student code of conduct and so this is not an unusual occurrence,” Hand said.

During last week's hearing before the student board, a University of Cincinnati freshman accused Campus Advance members of in-your-face recruitment. The freshman told the board that “there is really no getting away from them.”

Christians on Campus was also affiliated with the Cincinnati Church of Christ, which belongs to the International Churches of Christ. That denomination follows a literal reading of the Bible and is also known for aggressive recruitment tactics.

“We read and strive to abide by the entire Bible and hold it to be inspired and inerrant,” the group states on its Web site. “In keeping with Biblical examples, we multiply our churches by sending out small groups of disciples to major metropolitan areas where they then can form new churches. Our short-term goal is to plant a church in every nation with a city of at least 100,000 people by the year 2000.”

The Rev. David Harper, a former campus minister, told The Cincinnati Post that he considered the International Churches of Christ to be among other “pseudo-Christian destructive religious groups.”

Gary Daniels, litigation coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said that one of the group's attorneys had contacted university officials to express concern about Campus Advance's First Amendment rights.

Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the ACLU of Ohio, said that the university should not become entangled in deciding which religious groups are fit to operate on campus. Moreover, Greenwood said, the religious practices of Campus Advance are protected by the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment.

“The university has no justification whatsoever — even if they call it protecting students — for prohibiting a religious group from operating on campus, because it is not up to university officials to decide what adult students can and cannot believe,” Greenwood said.

“The notion that the university has the authority to pick and choose among religious groups and to treat some as preferred and others as cults that they can kick off campus is totally alien to the free-exercise clause,” he said.