Cedarville administration defends newspaper confiscation

Independent paper published articles sympathetic to LGBT issues

Top officials at Cedarville University confiscated an independent newspaper being distributed by students last week, setting off an debate that spilled across religious, human rights and media websites along with social media.

Zach Schneider, the editor of the paper, and three other students were handing out copies of The Ventriloquist April 23 when they say they were approached after mandatory chapel services by university President Thomas White and Jon Wood, vice president of student life and Christian ministries, Schneider said.

Schneider, a senior computer science major from Maryland, said Wood told him to stop handing out the newspaper.

“‘Zach, you know you’re not supposed to be distributing these. You’ve got to stop distributing these,’” Schneider said Wood told him.

“He grabbed the papers and started kind of pulling them out of my hand,” Schneider said. “I wasn’t going to get in a tug-of-war with the vice president, so I let them go.”

White, president of the Baptist university in Greene County, said this week he and Wood did take the newspapers because they hadn’t first been cleared by the administration.

“This is simply a matter of unauthorized distribution. On our campus, even Gideons International obtained authorization to distribute Bibles. So it’s just our standard protocol.”

According to Mark Weinstein, university spokesperson, a person or group wanting to distribute literature on campus must submit it to the university office overseeing the request, typically the director of student life programs, or vice president of student life and Christian ministries, who is Wood.

Schneider said The Ventriloquist had been delivered without incident twice a semester since the paper began in 2010. He believes a first-person article in the February issue by Avery Redic, an openly gay former Cedarville student, touched a nerve for administrators and may have led to the April incident. Redic writes in the article that he was removed from campus leadership positions by Wood after coming out to another faculty member. Next to Redic’s article another headline read “I’m Gay, Why must I live in fear at Cedarville?”, above a story written anonymously by another student.

The Ventriloquist also publicizes Cedarville Out, a group supportive of those LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) within the Cedarville University community. The paper has also published work by a Cedarville graduate who now identifies as atheist.

“We’re a conservative Christian institution. We believe that the Bible is God’s word. We believe that marriage is a covenant relationship between one man and one woman,” White said. “We think that sex is created by God for things that should be contained inside a marriage. That puts us at odds with some things you would find in the paper.”

Schneider said the newspaper offers views not found in Cedars, the university’s sanctioned newspaper produced by journalism students who report to a faculty advisor.

“We generally publish articles that are intended to provide an alternative perspective to the school and make students think,” Schneider said. “I think that telling the story of LGBT students and pushing for equality for them on campus is one of the functions of The Ventriloquist that I think is an important one.”

Costs of printing the paper are supported with about $500 a semester in grant money from Generation Progress, a left-leaning national campus organization. Schneider said he had full editorial control of the paper during his two years as editor before he announced that the paper’s 13th issue, the one confiscated, would be his last.

White said he believes in freedom of expression and said Baptists were among the first to fight for religious freedom.

“I believe in free speech. I think those that I disagree with have a right to have a voice in American society and government should not censor that in any way,” White said.

White said those distributing The Ventriloquist have not been disciplined.

“Honestly, I’m more concerned about the souls of the students than I am the content of the articles,” he said. “They’re on my prayer list. I pray for them regularly. I desire the best for them. What I believe is best for them is the biblical truths that we love God with all of our hearts, soul, mind and strength and love others as ourself.”

Cedarville University has about 3,500 students and 590 faculty and staff members.

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