Church recruitment infringes on students' rights

The Tulane Hullabaloo (Editorial)/April 24, 1998

"The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins," said Oliver Wendall Holmes, recognizing the fine line between the legitimate and illegitimate expression of individual rights. Recent overzealous recruitment tactics on campus by the New Orleans Church are crossing this line.

Tulane University has the authority to and should keep this organization off campus.

First, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right to express them both are cornerstones of the college community. They are cornerstones of the nation, too, for that matter.

The New Orleans Church is entitled to say what it wants to say, regardless of whether the content of that speech has merit or not. Tulane students, too, are constitutionally entitled to regard, disregard or even ignore this the message.

Persons have the option to listen to the message of recruiters of the New Orleans Church and drop down right there on the sidewalk in front of PJ's and pray for forgiveness, and they have the option to walk by recruiters muttering curses without pause. People can choose to listen, but ideally they are not obligated to do so in any way.

However, this ideal is not representative of the situation continuing to develop on campus. Eager proselytizing activities are blurring the distinction between rightful expression and imposing on others.

Some of the church's recruiting tactics on campus are merely unethical; targeting minority students, focusing on individuals when they are alone, and the deliberate use of emotionally charged and threatening messages. While these techniques may be repugnant and conniving, as long as those being approached have the option to refuse interaction with recruiters, the personal rights of the recruitee remains intact.

The place where the New Orleans Church crosses the line is when its tactics for recruitment infringe upon the rights of the students on campus. Whether this includes singling out individuals to follow to class, pursuing unwanted contact, or silencing dissenting opinions among members and guests in group functions, these activities cross the line to outright violation of an individual's rights.

Though not responsible for the actions of the New Orleans Church, on campus the Tulane administration has the responsibility to restrict the presence of the church to protect students' rights. Already, two organization which practice heavy proselytizing tactics, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormon disciples, are not allowed to recruit on campus.

The organization has managed to prove its marginality as a legitimate religion since it has been recruiting on campus by violating students' rights to decline advances.

As a private institution dedicated to preserving freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression, the position the Tulane administration should take on this issue is clear. An organization which has set foot on the private premises on this foundation and then violated the constitutional rights of students does not deserve a place within this institution.

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