Christian university prevents students from starting conservative group

Robby Soave Reporter
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A Christian university blocked conservative students from forming a Young Americans for Freedom chapter on campus last week.

Azusa Pacific, a private Christian university near Los Angeles, California, took issue with “divisive language” on the website of YAF, an advocacy group for college-aged conservatives. University officials also feared that replacing the existing conservative student club with a YAF-affiliated one would limit membership options for students.

A spokesperson clarified that while students were free to associate with YAF, no official relationship would be permitted to exist.

“They can associate with YAF, we’re just not wanting a formal chapter on our campus,” said Rachel White, assistant director of public relations at Azusa Pacific, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The university’s position came as quite a surprise to Patrick Coyle, executive director of YAF.

“There is no legitimate reason for them to reject having a YAF chapter on campus,” he said in an interview with The DC News Foundation.

YAF is a project of the Young America’s Foundation. Its website describes YAF’s nationwide campus activities as follows:

Are you tired of liberal ideas dominating your campus? Are you tired of liberal and Marxist professors indoctrinating your classmates? Do you want to advance conservatism?

If you answered yes, then you should start a Young Americans for Freedom chapter. YAF chapters make a difference by boldly advancing freedom and conservatism.  Radical feminists, big government bureaucrats, fringe environmentalists, race-baiters, Islamo-fascists, and run of the mill leftists are distraught that you would even think about promoting conservative ideas.

This language disqualified the organization from official recognition, according to White.

“We were concerned with some of the divisive language that the organization uses and some of its political activism,” she said. “We don’t feel like that was a good mix for our campus because we are working to have a college environment that has a unity in Christ and is not divisive.”

Administrators made the decision to reject the YAF chapter based on input from faculty members, including Jennifer Walsh, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and a political science professor at Azusa Pacific. Walsh said that YAF’s mission was ill-suited to Azusa Pacific, because conservative students do not face a hostile, politically liberal campus.

“It just seemed to be language that was designed to help students who are facing a hostile learning environment on secular campuses where conservative voices are hard to find, or their views are attacked openly, and that’s not the kind of environment we have on campus,” she said in an interview with The DC News Foundation.

But according to student Ashley Blackwell, the university isn’t as welcoming to conservatives as administrators and faculty think that it is. Blackwell leads the current conservative club for students, and pushed for the group to gain YAF affiliation. Though she did not respond to requests for comment, she described Azusa Pacific’s environment as liberal in an interview with the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute.

Walsh maintained that as a private university, Azusa Pacific was within its rights to prohibit group activities that it deemed counter to its mission.

“As a private university, especially a Christian-centered university, there are a lot of things we don’t promote or endorse or support, so if we had students come to us and want to start an atheists club, well that contradicts our mission as a Christ-centered university,” she said.

But the university’s acceptance of public funding prevents it from being entirely private, said Coyle.

“The only true private institutions of higher learning are Hillsdale College and Grove City, which truly reject all forms of public funding,” he said.

If a university restricts the activities of its student groups, that university does not respect free speech, he said.

“Students should reject any forms of censorship, and it should be students, not administrators, who decide which clubs are formed and which ones succeed,” he said.

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