SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 28, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kyle DeVries, East Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6284, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Williamsburg, KY) — Today, three young adults were arrested for standing on the public sidewalk perimeter of University of the Cumberlands. Twenty-two young adults from the Soulforce Equality Ride traveled to the university to speak messages affirming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students.
When the Equality Riders arrived at the University of the Cumberlands, police from throughout Whitley County surrounded the bus and the Riders were immediately informed that any attempt to enter onto campus would result in arrest. The riders exited the bus and lined up along the street in order to stand vigil but were promptly told by police that they were not allowed to stand along the public sidewalk.
The Equality Riders began to walk up and down the sidewalk in front of the campus, singing songs from the Civil Rights Movement. After 15 minutes, the young adults broke up to speak with students waiting on the periphery of campus. However police sent mixed messages to the Equality Riders, saying at one point that no individual could stand stationary on the public sidewalk and later that only groups of 3 or more would be arrested for standing stationary. It soon became clear that no individual could stand still along the sidewalk, even to converse with students.
Previously, in Clinton, Mississippi, Equality Riders had faced similar infringements on their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. There the city also tried to take away the Equality Riders ability to peaceably assemble on public property. Mississippi ACLU lawyer John Williams wrote Clinton citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent that established right to assembly infringements as "the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment Rights."
One Equality Rider, Jake Reitan, was arrested for standing still along the sidewalk, although he was given no warning or order to disperse. Upon seeing this, two students from the University of the Cumberlands decided to stand on the sidewalk. After about 15 minutes they were arrested by the police.
Some students expressed fear at the University’s backlash towards those who interacted with the Equality Riders. "I would hug you, but we just put in for a budget increase for our student group," said one anonymous student to Jason Johnson, a friend of hers who had been expelled from the school for being gay last year. Another student mused on whether he would be expelled for being videotaped talking to Equality Riders.
The University of Cumberlands maintains a policy that states "Any student who engages in or promotes sexual behavior not consistent with Christian principles (including sex outside marriage and homosexuality) may be suspended or asked to withdraw from the University of the Cumberlands."
Despite the restrictions forced onto the Equality Riders by the University and police, many students chose to walk with the riders up and down the sidewalk in order to speak with them about the university’s discriminatory policy towards LGBT students.
University of the Cumberlands is one of 32 mostly Christian colleges and universities that Soulforce will visit as part of its second annual Soulforce Equality Ride. The 2007 Equality Ride is a 2 month journey by bus that is taking 50 young adults on 2 distinct routes to schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The West Bus of the Equality Ride is currently traveling through California visiting Pepperdine University and Fresno Pacific University.
Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.