Officials at Harding, the private Church of Christ University in Searcy, Arkansas, this week blocked access to a webzine gay students had self-published to talk about what life is like for them at Harding.
From The Advocate:
According to the Arkansas Times,The State of the Gay at Harding University contained anonymously written perspectives from current and former gay and lesbian students at Harding, a Church of Christ–affiliated institution that disapproves of homosexuality.
“It is part storytelling, part religious and political critique, and partly a manifesto of hope for Harding’s future,” the website proclaimed.
Originally slated to go live at 9 p.m. Wednesday, the site was activated ahead of schedule after news of it leaked around campus. Not long afterward, the university blocked access to it.
According to the Arkansas Times, David Crouch, director of public relations at Harding University, issued the following response to why the website was blocked:
Harding University is a private Christian university whose mission and policies are rooted in biblical principles. All students are given a copy of the handbook and know about our mission and policies before their first day on campus. The student handbook states that the university holds to the biblical principle that sexual relationships are unacceptable to God outside the context of marriage and that sexual immorality in any form will result in suspension from the university.
Based on that policy, university administrators felt that having this website available on campus goes against said mission and policies. In addition, the handbook states that any literature distributed on campus must be approved by the Office of Student Life and must state the name of the sponsoring organization. These pamphlets were both printed and distributed anonymously with no prior approval, and the website is an online version of that pamphlet.
“All is not well at Harding. Our voices are muted, our stories go unheard, and we are forced into hiding. We are threatened with re-orientation therapy, social isolation and expulsion. We are told stories and lies that we are disgusting sinners who are dammed to hell, that we are broken individuals and child abusers. We are told we will live miserable lives and are responsible for the collapse of civilization. We have lost our friends and families, been kicked out of our churches and school, and are killed, or when left with no option, kill ourselves. [...] we are here to announce that we will not stand for it any longer. This is simply not acceptable. We are good people who are finished being treated as second-class citizens at Harding. We have done nothing wrong and we did not choose this suppression. We are children of God and valuable assets to this campus and the world beyond. We are not asking anything from you. We are here to tell you that we exist and will not be silenced.”
The online version of the zine contains personal stories from anonymous students that tell of how they reconciled their faith and sexuality, and also has reflections on various topics including an alternative view of certain so-called clobber passages in the Bible that are said to condemn modern homosexuality.
It is certainly true that a private university has the right to control what material is published and distributed on campus and, of course, students are free to access the zine through use of an independent Internet connection, but it is interesting to see how that right to censor has been used in this case against a portion of the student body given that religious institutions so frequently rely on the right to freedom of speech to protect their own ability to voice their opinions on sexual morality and wider life.
While the university’s faculty may be technically correct in asserting they can block whatever material they find to be “objectionable content,” that does not make this any less chilling for those students who, it would appear, are desperate to have their voices heard.