LAWTON, Okla. — A public university in Oklahoma is facing a federal lawsuit after it reportedly banned a Christian student from distributing flyers that warned about an organization that he considered to be a cult.
The Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) recently filed suit against Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma after officials stopped student Daniel Harper from handing out flyers regarding the World Mission Society. The society, founded in South Korea in 1964, teaches that its leader, Ahn Sahng-hong, is the second coming of Christ, and that God has a female identity known as ‘God the Mother.’
“Campus cult alert,” the flyers, distributed at the university in February, read. “The ‘Mother God’ cult is out in full force.”
“They use the Bible, but twist and bend Scriptures to fit their ‘master’s’ teachings,” the handouts continued. “They want to recruit, isolate and indoctrinate new members, in turn teaching them to do the same. It is mind control. … Be alert and leary…”
According to Harper, an unidentified student complained to the university about the content of his flyers, which prompted Cameron officials to approach Harper about the matter. He was then informed that he could not distribute the materials because other students found them to be offensive, and because he did not obtain prior approval from the university.
ADF states that Equal Opportunity Official Thomas Russell also accused Harper of libel, and asserted that he was in violation of the university’s Equal Opportunity policy.
When Harper contended that he had a First Amendment right to distribute the flyers, Russell allegedly told him that there is more to free speech than the Constitution.
“I like those amendments to the Constitution. They are foundations to democracy. But that’s all they are—foundations. You can’t live on them. You’ll freeze to death in winter and burn up in summer,” he said. “Once you get the foundation built to live in the house, you need framework and rooms, and that is the policies and procedures [of the university].”
Following a campus investigation into the matter, Harper was declared to be in violation of the Cameron University’s Expressive Activity and Equal Opportunity policies, which in part prohibit speech that is “offensive” or “discriminatory,” and require prior approval.
As a result of the ban, ADF has filed a federal lawsuit against university officials, contending that they had no right to stop Harper from expressing his views about a particular religious group.
“Public university officials don’t get to pick and choose which theological viewpoints can be expressed on campus,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot.
“Public universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas,” added Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. “The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of their religious beliefs. They should not have to pre-register their speech with college officials or comply with vague speech codes to exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”
“We hope that Cameron University will revise its policy so that all students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms,” Theriot said.