Student Senate bill should have enjoyed unanimous support

By Bradlee Hall | Contributor

On March 1, I attended a Student Senate hearing voting on a proposition presented by Senior Senator Abdullah (Appi) Ghali. The bill proposed that the university excise discriminatory requirements regarding the founding of non-Christian religious organizations on campus. According to the Student Activities guidelines, titled prospective religious student organizations, religious student groups must uphold a statement of faith espousing core Christian teachings including: “Jesus Christ and the role of His life, death, and resurrection, The Trinity, The role of the Bible, Salvation and The Church.”

Earlier in his university career, Ghali wished to charter a University Muslim Association. Because the statement of faith requirements did not align with the mission of the proposed group, he was discouraged from applying. This rejection catalyzed a push to change Baylor’s policy. Though this debate began with Muslim members of our student body, I would like to preface the conversation by acknowledging that this exclusion equally extends to Hindu, Buddhist and atheist students wishing to charter organizations, among others.

The fight over whether minority religious organizations should receive university approval is not a new debate. It might shock you to learn that until 2007, Baylor did not even grant organizational status to non-Baptist Christian student organizations. According to the faculty advisor attending the meeting, religious organizations seeking approval must pass a gauntlet including regency approval not required for other groups. Clearly, change happens glacially at a university that markets itself on its uniquely religious identity.

The senate meeting came to order ominously enough, with so many observers present that standing room only was available to guests. The chaplain, Tanner Wright, began an invocation by asking all attendees to lower their heads and close their eyes. Under the cover of anonymity, attendees were asked if they owned a Bible – to acquire the number of holy books to be purchased and distributed to those who answered in the negative. All attendees were profiled regarding their religious persuasions before the meeting even began.

As the motion of the day came to order, Ghali offered an eloquent proposition before inviting several friends to speak in support of his bill. During this section, speakers pointed out the unique stance Baylor takes in contrast to other religious universities including SMU, Pepperdine and McMurry University. A member of Baylor’s Better Together BU interfaith organization pointed to the uniquely Baptist position of religious toleration. According to her words, “Baptists advocated for religious liberty all the way back to the founding of our country…” religious toleration is “part of a distinctive Baptist mission.”

As deliberation began, a hostile environment immediately set in. Slippery slope fallacies were common, and senators argued that the soul of the university was at stake. Evidently, allowing religious minorities to discuss faith topics in a reserved room was too far. One senator bemoaned the suggestion that atheist students could establish an organization – as if these students’ opinions were less valid than members of major faiths. Scriptural passages were bandied about throughout the deliberation in a manner that could have easily been mistaken for a heated doctrinal debate. Many courageous senators spoke eloquently in defense of the bill, but rebuttals were always swift and abundant. One senator went so far as to quip that if students did not attend the university on religious grounds, they should have attended another establishment altogether. I am ashamed of such a display, as any religious minority in attendance would have surely felt ostracized. One senator even proposed an executive session to make the vote unviewable to observers. Is this the kind of transparency we want?

So, were does this leave us? A motion that should have enjoyed unanimous support by the senate morphed into a display of fearmongering pageantry. Nearly half of the senators voted against even the most modest accommodations for religious minorities, and in so doing exposed a dark side of the often times insular community that is Baylor. Several other senators abstained from voting and, in their silence, exposed their lack of conviction. Bluntly put, these senators need to go. They need to be voted out come next election cycle and questioned regarding their votes. I will hold my elected officials responsible come April 5. Will you join me?

Bradlee Hall senior biology major from Dumas.