So we had our stop at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia on Thursday.

We were definitely not allowed on the campus of this small, very conservative, non-denominational, Protestant school. Patrick Henry, with just about 325 students (but with a goal to have at least 5,000 in the next few years), was founded out of the right-wing home-school movement. 85% of PHC’s students come from home-schooled backgrounds.

The school has seemed to garner some favor in the eyes of the radical right and even the Bush Administration. PHC’s stated goals are to teach and train young Christians to serve the nation in public service and to shape our nation and culture with “timeless biblical values.” Out of 80 graduates from their first graduating class in 2004 (the school was founded in 2000), seven students were hired as White House interns; this is more than any other college in the United States!

Two of our Riders attempted to take invitations on campus for a community dinner we had scheduled on Thursday evening. Needless to say, they were promptly and quickly arrested by the overwhelmingly embarrassing amount of law enforcement personnel present that day. We found out later that over 110 law enforcement personnel were present on and around the campus.

We were only able to talk to two students, ironically I was the one (you know… the “political junkie” of the bus) to actually speak to the guys. The two guys just happened to be hanging out at the same coffee shop in Purcellville I was hanging out in doing a little work on the video of the day’s events. Surprisingly, both students admitted they were embarrassed by their school’s response to our visit and both admitted that Patrick Henry students are NOT ready to work in the real world and are disadvantaged when it comes to working with minority groups! The students also talked at length about some of the disconnect between some students at PHC and the Administration. I’m quickly learning that no matter how bleak a situation, a bright spot appears somewhere.

Also… feast your eyes on the stomach-turning, hate-laced letter the school sent to students’ parents – that is, if you think you can handle it.

Here are some links to some news articles written on PHC:

I’ll definitely post on Messiah College, where we were at on Friday, as soon as I can.

Also of interest… yet another stomach-turning piece of work. This one (14 pages worth if you dare to read it all, or if you can handle reading it all) is the response given to the Soulforce Equality Ride from Dr. Paul Owen at Montreat College in North Carolina. Catch it Adam Britt’s blog.

In all its glory… the vigil, the anti-gay protestors, the Charlotte, NC-based Operation Save America and three arrests…

The Equality Ride at Bob Jones University, Greenville, SC, April 4, 2007

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From the Courier-Journal:

Activists stage seminary sit-in
They protest Mohler’s commentary on gays

By Peter Smith
psmith@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

Copyright 2007, Courier-Journal, Michael Clevenger, PhotographerA dozen gay-rights activists were charged with criminal trespass yesterday after holding a sit-in outside the office of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler to protest his recent comments about homosexuality.

[Photo Right: Protesters sang outside Southern Baptist Theological Seminary yesterday while waiting for other protesters to be arrested inside President Albert Mohler’s office. (By Michael Clevenger, The Courier-Journal)] More Photos from the Courier-Journal.

Twenty-two people initially participated in the two-hour sit-in. Ten left when they were warned that they would be arrested if they stayed.

Police arrested the other 12 protesters without incident. They were being processed at Metro Corrections early yesterday evening.

The activists are part of the group Soulforce, which calls for religious groups to accept noncelibate gays and lesbians as members and leaders. They are on a two-month bus tour holding similar protests at other religious college campuses.

The activists were protesting a recent online commentary by Mohler. While conceding the possibility that homosexuality could be caused by biological factors, Mohler welcomed the use of prenatal hormonal therapies, if developed, to counteract homosexual tendencies detected in fetuses, although he ruled out using genetic engineering.

One protester, Kyle DeVries, said that Mohler’s prominence as a leading evangelical Christian spokesman gives him “tremendous influence” and that his “calls for eugenics for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people needed to be answered. … We decided to come here and demand a rescindment of those comments and a public apology for them.”

The protesters arrived around 10 a.m. and entered Norton Hall but were barred from the office. They sat silently, cross-legged on the floor, except when seminary Vice President for Communications Lawrence Smith said he would listen to their formal statement. The group also sang a popular revival hymn, “Just As I Am,” at one point.

Smith said that Mohler was not on campus at the time of the protest and that it did not disrupt classes or any other campus activity except the operation of the president’s office, which is on the second floor of the administration building.

“They, of course, have a right to protest, but they don’t have a right to break the law, and that’s why they were arrested,” Smith said. “You have to understand they are a professional protest group. Their aim is to create disruption and in some cases be arrested.”

Soulforce has protested at past meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Mohler’s online column, posted earlier this month on his Web site, ran counter to conservative evangelicals’ common assertion that homosexuality is chosen, not biological. Mohler said Christians shouldn’t be surprised if scientists find a biological cause for homosexuality because of the traditional Christian belief that human sin has infected all of nature.

“If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin,” Mohler wrote in an article posted March 2 on his blog at www.AlbertMohler.com.

Matt Comer, one of the protesters who was not arrested, said he grew up in an independent Baptist church that, like the Southern Baptist Convention, condemned homosexual behavior.

He said Mohler is “a major Baptist leader” whose words “are going to affect youth like me who grew up in Baptist churches hearing horrible things from the pulpit about gay and lesbian people.”

Mohler’s writing that he would not favor genetic engineering but only prenatal hormonal therapy didn’t make a difference to DeVries.

“What’s the difference when you eliminate somebody’s sexual orientation?” he said.

The 10 protesters who left the premises when warned of arrest went down to a public sidewalk along Lexington Road in front of the campus, where they stood in the hot sun and sang in support of those being arrested. A small group of seminary students greeted them briefly and brought them water.

Soulforce and local gay-rights protesters held a second vigil late yesterday afternoon on the public sidewalk in front of the seminary.

Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469.

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Yesterday was our stop at Mississippi College in Clinton, MS. You’ll remember from a few days ago when I posted the story on how the City of Clinton Police Department had attempted to restrict our Constitutionally-protected rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. One of the Police’s restrictions was that we would be arrested if we walked on a public sidewalk anywhere within the city limits if in groups of four or more individuals. The City of Clinton later backed down after the ACLU sent them a letter fully explaining the Constitutional issues involved in that situation.

Here is a video of the occurrences at Mississippi College and the City of Clinton, below that is a copy of a post by Jake Reitan, Equality Ride founder, from the Soulforce blog, including a letter sent to the Mississippi Attorney General. You can see the official Press Release from Soulforce here. For more information on the five arrests at the College, see this release.



From Soulforce…

Today the Equality Ride hit a bump in the road. We ran into police intimidation in Clinton Mississippi. Prior to leaving the town of Clinton Mississippi the Equality Ride bus was confronted three times by the same police officer who told the Equality Ride bus driver to “go on and get out of town.” The final time the officer interacted with the bus driver he threatened to arrest him if he did not follow his order.

The right to peaceably assemble without fear of arrest is a central right protected by our constitution. Moreover, the behavior on the part of the Clinton Mississippi police concerns not just to the civil rights of the Equality Riders but more importantly the general safety and well being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people within the town of Clinton, Mississippi.

Below is a letter that Jarret Lucas and Katie Higgins, the two co-directors of the Equality Ride east bus, sent to the Mississippi Attorney General expressing our concerns.

The Equality Riders will be returning to Clinton today for a preplanned community forum and picnic.

March 23, 2007

Attorney General Jim Hood
MS Attorney General’s Office
Carroll Gartin Justice Building
450 High Street
Jackson, MS 39201

Sent Via: Facsimile

Re: “Get out of town”

Dear Attorney General Hood,

We write today out of deep concern for the actions of the Clinton Mississippi Police Department. We are the Co-Directors of the Soulforce Equality Ride, a bus tour of college students who are crossing the country to advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality. As a group we are committed to and trained in the principles of nonviolence, and have a history of peaceful dialogue and respectful interaction with college students and administrations across the country. Soulforce has an outstanding relationship with many police departments and honors the hard work that law enforcement officials put into their lives everyday.

Last night, while in the town of Clinton, Mississippi, we experienced a distressing form of police intimidation. After a day of dialogue at nearby Mississippi College, we parked our bus in downtown Clinton. We were waiting for the return of some of the members of our tour from area coffee shops. While waiting, a police vehicle approached the bus with its lights flashing, signaling us to move. Our bus driver immediately turned down the nearest road and into a church parking lot to await the Equality Riders. The same officer once again followed us into the parking lot, with his lights on and asked our driver to speak with him. The officer was quite aggressive in demanding that we “go on and get out of town.” Our driver explained that we were still waiting on the remainder of our group, but was still forced to move the bus. At that time, we drove and parked the bus in a lot that was previously designated by the city of Clinton. For the third time, a police vehicle approached us with flashing lights. The officer who approached us was extremely indignant and asked us “what is your problem? We have already given you breaks today.” Our driver explained that we were in the space the City provided for us. In response, the officer asserted that our driver would be arrested if he were to take us anywhere else and not leave the city of Clinton immediately. Soon after, a community member arrived with the rest of the Equality Riders and we left promptly. We are prepared to provide sworn affidavits from ten people who can attest to the above series of events.

This behavior on the part of a Clinton police officer is unacceptable and we consider it a violation of our civil rights. Law abiding citizens should be allowed to safely assemble in any town in America. Such actions on the part of a law enforcement agent serve to make gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people feel unsafe in the city of Clinton. The role of a police officer is to protect members of the public, not threaten or intimidate them.

These concerns are augmented by the fact that several days prior to our arrival in Clinton, we received a document from the Clinton Police Department that set restrictions on our First Amendment right to assemble. After being contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union, the city rescinded the unconstitutional restrictions and shamefully applauded Soulforce for “playing the game well.”

We are planning on returning to the city of Clinton today for a preplanned community picnic and we will not tolerate a repeat of this sort of behavior from the Clinton Police Department. If threatened with arrest for lawful assembly today members of the Soulforce Equality Ride are prepared and willing to submit to such an arrest. Any arrests for lawful assembly would be challenged by us in court and followed up with a lawsuit on our behalf against the city of Clinton for violation of our civil rights.

We hope that you will take swift action by informing the city of Clinton that such behavior by the Clinton Police is unlawful and will not be tolerated in the State of Mississippi.

Jarrett Lucas & Katie Higgins

cc. Dunn Lampton, U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Mississippi
Chief Don Byington, City of Clinton Police Department
Sheriff Maclom McMillin, Hinds County Sheriff Department
John S. Williams, Staff Attorney, ACLU Mississippi

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More videos coming soon!

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Three more OBU videos coming tonight and in the morning: Rider reflections, OBU Day Two & Community Rally/Picnic.

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Video: Central Bible College

Here is the video from our stop at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri.

I’ll get the video (or, most likely videos) from our two days at Oklahoma Baptist University up soon.

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Equality Riders reflect on their visit to Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Video from the Westbound route’s stop at University of Notre Dame, where six were arrested.

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Yeah… Had to use Google Video this time. YouTube has a 100mb limit… this video was, sadly, 107mb.

Throughout March and April, my job on the Eastern Route of the Equality Ride will bring you online videos and “podcasts.” We’re really excited to be able to do this, knowing that you all will be able to keep up with what we are doing, having the ability to see it through the wonder of the web.

Here is our first video…

In this video are numerous folks, including Jake Reitan (Founder of the Equality Ride), Haven Herrin (Co-Director of the Western Route), Minnesota State Senator Scott Dibble (DFL, District 60), Mrs. Kim Ellison (on behalf of Congressman Keith Ellison, D-MN), the Reverend Phil Lawson (Human & Civil Rights Leader) and Western Bus Rider Cylest Brooks singing “Love can build a bridge” by The Judds.

More will come as we move down the road (the buses leave Wednesday). You’ll be able to see video of events, video journals from the Riders, as well as audio journals in our podcasts.