National Tour of Christian Colleges Determined to Discuss Faith and Gays at Mississippi College & BYU

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Equality ride determined to bring conversation about faith and gays to Mississippi College and BYU; Mississippi town attempts to restrict constitutional rights; ACLU intervenes; Mormons bar Equality Riders on all church property; Full schedule below.

it is unconstitutional and unlawful for your office to deny citizens the right to peacefully assemble on public property without the above mentioned safeguards and restraints. From a legal standpoint your licensing requirement is wrought with constitutional violations and restrictions on First Amendment grounds.

Two weeks ago, 50 young men and women boarded two buses and set out on a remarkable journey. Their mission: to initiate conversations about faith and sexuality at 32 Christian colleges with policies that silence or exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. This week, the Riders face their toughest challenges yet as the westbound bus travels to Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah and the eastbound bus travels to Mississippi College in Mississippi.

Thus far, the Riders have shared moments of reconciliation, prayer, and connection with conservative Christian students at colleges on two separate routes across the nation, but they have also faced harassment and intimidation. Their bus was defaced with anti-gay slurs in Sioux Center, Iowa and they were met by armed police on the rooftops at Central Bible College in Missouri.

Riders are now facing organized resistance as they prepare to visit BYU, where Mormon Riders have been banned from their own church, and Clinton, Miss., where police officials attempted to abridge the Riders' constitutional rights.

***Clinton, Mississippi: Echoes of Past Civil Rights Struggles

Police Officials Attempt to Deny the Right to Assemble***

On Tuesday, police officials in Clinton, Miss., informed the eastbound Equality Riders that members of their group would be cited if they "attempt to gather or travel in a group of four or more" near the campus of Mississippi College.

Equality Riders immediately contacted the ACLU of Mississippi, who intervened on the group's behalf. In a letter to Ruffin, ACLU-Mississippi Staff Attorney John Williams cited Supreme Court precedents establishing prior restraints on the right to assemble as "the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment Rights."

Williams continued, "it is unconstitutional and unlawful for your office to deny citizens the right to peacefully assemble on public property without the above mentioned safeguards and restraints. From a legal standpoint your licensing requirement is wrought with constitutional violations and restrictions on First Amendment grounds."

Clinton police officials immediately withdrew the unconstitutional restrictions.

***Mississippi College Administrator Likens Equality Ride Visit to 9/11***

Officials at Mississippi College, the second oldest Baptist college in the nation, have made it clear that the Equality Riders' loving perspective on LGBT students is not welcome on campus.

In negotiations prior to the visit, one administrator likened the Riders to terrorists, vowing that the campus would deal with the Equality Riders "just like America dealt with 9/11."

Today, March 22, the Riders plan a peaceful vigil on a public sidewalk adjacent to the campus at 10 am. During the vigil, Equality Riders will make themselves available to students who are interested in speaking with them. The vigil will take place on College Street, between Capitol and Jefferson.

"While fear plays a strong role on this campus and in this town, the truth of our message is stronger: God loves all of His children, regardless of their sexual orientation," says Stephen Krebs, one of the organizers of the Equality Ride visit to Mississippi College.

***Brigham Young University: Mormon Equality Riders Barred From all Church Property***

Last week, Soulforce Equality Riders on the westbound bus received a letter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints asking that Equality Riders "not enter church property for any purpose." The Riders had planned to visit Temple Square in Salt Lake City to learn more about the LDS faith in preparation for a stop at Brigham Young University on March 22.

The BYU Student Honor Code states that "no one known to be guilty of overt and active homosexual conduct is to be enrolled or permitted to remain at Church Educational System (CES) campuses as students."

The Equality Riders' goal at BYU is to expose the suffering that this policy creates and to provide resources for hope and reconciliation.

"Many LGBT students in our community suffer in silence," says Kourt Osborn, one of the organizers of the BYU stop. "They feel lonely, without friends or avenues for support. They feel threatened by BYU or by their own feelings inside, without affirming and correct information to give them a sense of identity."

Today, Equality Riders and Provo community members will begin a six-hour "Walls of Jericho" walk around the outskirts campus in order to draw attention to the issues that LGBT students face at BYU.

During the march, Riders will hold a press conference for community members, students, and former students to present grievances and concerns to the BYU community. This List of Concerns represents contributions directly from the BYU community to the school administration. The press conference will be held at the corner of Bulldog and North Canyon at 11 a.m.

Immediately after the press conference, Riders, community members, and BYU students will attempt to deliver the List of Concerns to Vice President Jan Scharman. The Equality Riders have already received an official notice of trespassing and proclamation of arrest if they enter Church or University property.

***Looking Back: Moments of Reconciliation***

In spite of the resistance that the Ride has encountered, the Riders have also participated in moments of genuine dialogue and reconciliation. At Wisconsin Lutheran, Riders were not allowed on campus, but the did manage an off-campus meeting with administrators and select students.

"Many of the students bowed their heads, cried, and shifted uncomfortably as the school officials repeatedly condemned us. One brave young woman stepped forward and joined our closing prayer, despite the school officials' outright refusal to do so," said Alexey Bulokhov, Co-director of the Ride.

The Soulforce Equality Riders will continue their journey through April 26. A complete list of stops is below:

West Bus

March 21-22    Brigham Young University

March 26-27    Pepperdine University

March 29-30    San Francisco Bay Area Outreach

April 1-2    Fresno Pacific University    

April 5        George Fox University

April 11    Seattle Pacific University

April 11    Northwest University    

April 13    Northwest Nazarene University

April 16-17    Brigham Young University - Idaho    

April 19-20    Yellowstone Baptist College    

April 23    Trinity Bible College    

April 25    Northwestern College

April 26    Bethany Lutheran College    

East Bus

March 22    Mississippi College

March 28    University of the Cumberlands

March 30    Samford University

April 2        Covenant College

April 4        Bob Jones University

April 10    Montreat College

April 12    Patrick Henry College

April 13    Messiah College

April 16-17    Gordon College

April 19-20    Cedarville University

April 23    Cornerstone University

April 24    Calvin College

April 26    Bethany Lutheran College

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