Officials at a Florida college ordered a group of students to shut down a Bible study they were holding in the privacy of a dorm room – because it violated the rules.
The incident occurred at Rollins College in the midst of a campus battle over whether religious groups that require their leaders to follow specific religious beliefs are violating the school’s non-discrimination policies.
Four students affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship were holding an informal Bible study in the common area of a dorm suite. Midway through the study, a resident hall assistant entered the room and asked the student leading the study to step outside.
“He was told they were no longer allowed inside the dorm – even with the express consent of the students to do Bible studies,” said Greg Jao, InterVarsity’s national field director. “They said it was because InterVarsity was no longer a registered student group on campus.”
A Rollins spokesperson told Fox News that the rule was simply a miscommunication.
“No group is allowed to hold meetings in the common space of residence halls,” the spokesperson said. “A fraternity was recently in violation of this as well, and they were asked to meet elsewhere – so it was not just InterVarsity.”
The well-known Christian ministry was de-recognized as an official campus organization after they refused to comply with the college’s non-discrimination policy.
While InterVarsity welcomes all students and faculty to join their group, they require leaders to be followers of Christ. The college maintains that requirement is a violation of their non-discrimination policy.
One student who was inside the dorm room when the Bible study was shut down told Fox News it was a confusing moment.
“It was really sad,” the student said. “One of the students in our group called it frightening.”
The student asked not to be identified over fears of backlash from the college.
“I’m so disappointed in the decision that was made to do that,” the student told Fox News. “We do love this campus. That’s why we are involved in student ministry here. There’s a great feeling of disappointment because we do feel like this decision is not in the spirit of open dialogue and diversity that we know Rollins upholds as a core belief.”
Jao told Fox News that the students took their concerns to Student Affairs. He said they compared it to kicking a fraternity off campus but still being allowed to sponsor parties.
“We pointed out that Christian students holding a Bible study is a little bit different than a fraternity sponsoring a kegger in a dorm,” Jao said. “If students want to have a Bible study they should be free to do so.”
But Jao said the college is sending a message to Christian students – they are not welcomed.
“The challenge is that InterVarsity students are feeling somewhat targeted in ways that no other religious group would be,” he said. “You don’t get much more quiet than four students meeting together to study the Bible.”
And in the aftermath of last week’s decision by the college to not exempt religious groups from their nondiscrimination policy – other Christian organizations are getting nervous.
“Christian students certainly feel marginalized and unwelcome,” Jao told Fox News. “Whether its intended or not – that’s the message the students have received.
He said at least one other Christian group has been de-recognized. The college’s Catholic student group is also worried about the ruling.
“They want to know how it will affect Catholic students,” Jao said – fearing de-recognition. “I think they see it’s in the cards.”
“This kind of policy leaves open the door for lots of further consequences as far as expulsion and demands on ministries,” the student told Fox News.
The college spokesperson said InterVarsity “has been given special accommodations in our chapel on campus.”
But Jao said without official recognition – there is no guarantee that they can reserve or use space on campus.
“The nondiscrimination policy is turning into an exclusionary policy in their hands and we’re hoping the college will see the irony in what’s happening,” he said.
So why not just change InterVarsity’s policy and comply with the college’s demands?
The student who reached out to Fox News said that just can’t happen.
“To change our policy would be to say anyone with any set of values can lead,” the student said.
Other students also reached out to Fox News and said they love Rollins College – but are very concerned about the future of Christian student ministry.
“With decisions like this – it makes the claim that whatever group is being removed off campus – isn’t worthy of having that voice,” one student said. “They are not valued by the college.”
“By and large they are saying this group of students isn’t wanted in the greater conversation on campus,” another student added.