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Christian university denies conservative students’ request to form campus club

Faculty leaders at Samford University – a private Christian university in Alabama – have temporarily denied a request from conservative students to form a campus club due to the “inflammatory” wording of their founding documents.

The students had sought to launch a Young Americans for Freedom chapter at the school, but an email to the students from Shannon Ashe, the chair of the Campus Life Committee, explained why that request has been rejected – for now.

“We are looking for the YAF student group to amend or justify the inflammatory language listed in its Purpose,” Ashe told the student leading the effort to launch the club in a Nov. 15 email.

At issue is some wording in the Sharon Statement, which helped launch the conservative movement in the 1960s. It also serves as a founding document for every YAF campus chapter across the country.

The statement declares in part that “the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government … the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties; … the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace …”

Samford faculty had concerns over the statement’s calls for “victory over rather than coexistence with” communism, according to Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland. Ashe, in her email to students, stated that while wording might have been appropriate in 1960, it “does not hold the same in 2016.”

Emily Jashinsky, a spokeswoman for YAF, scoffed at such notions.

“It is widely celebrated by historians and scholars as one of the most important articulations of modern conservatism. The fact that anybody at Samford University accused it of being ‘inflammatory’ or ‘exclusive,’ as they did in an email we published on our website, is laughable,” she told The College Fix via email. “Young Americans for Freedom chapters, which have existed across the country since the adoption of the Sharon Statement in 1960, bring the best of the Conservative Movement to campuses. YAF empowers conservative students to act on their beliefs and make a real change in the world.”

After numerous media outlets took up this story and condemned Samford for being “a Haven for Marxists,” Samford University president Westmoreland on Nov. 30 released a statement defending his university and denouncing the media for what he contends was inaccurate reporting:

The students believed they were told that this element of the Sharon Statement would need to be amended in order for the chapter to receive recognition; members of the faculty believed that they were only asking hypothetical questions in order to clarify the statement. Following the session with the students, the Campus Life Committee elected not to grant immediate approval for the organization and instead provided the students with specific feedback related to their application, expressing the intention to reconsider the students’ application when the committee next reconvenes.

Yet that interpretation stands in contrast to Ashe’s Nov. 15 memo to students.

Jashinsky wrote a response to the president’s statement, noting, “despite their claims they did not ‘reject’ the chapter, but simply deferred the application, they did, of course, deny [the] efforts to be sanctioned this semester.”

“That constitutes a rejection by definition… We wish to see the university as a natural ally for our cause, but will not allow it to misrepresent the actions of its faculty in order to repair a public relations crisis.”

“Thankfully, we have worked towards a solution with the university that will allow the YAF chapter to move forward without altering any language in the Sharon Statement,” Jashinsky adds. “Unfortunately, the university maintains that the earliest the chapter will be approved is May, just as [the main student who sought to launch the club] graduates. She will not be able to enjoy the fruits of her labor.”

MORE: Conservative YAF group blocked from forming campus club

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About the Author
Lauren Fox -- University of Notre Dame