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Concordia secular club wants officials to reconsider

MOORHEAD -- Students trying to start a secular club at Concordia College are gathering signatures of support after the college declined to recognize the group.

Concordia leaders determined the mission of the proposed group Secular Students of Concordia is not consistent with the college's mission.

But Bjoern Kvernstuen, the student working to found the group, said Concordia leaders don't understand the goal of the club, and he wants them to reconsider.

Kvernstuen said the secular group has 80 members on Facebook and they're trying to gather at least 300 signatures of support within two weeks.

"We're certainly not going to give up already," said Kvernstuen, a music composition student from Norway.

Concordia spokesman Roger Degerman said student organizations can't be in conflict with the mission of the private college or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The proposed constitution of the secular club said the group wanted to present secular values as an adequate alternative to religion, Degerman said.

"That stated goal is in opposition to the mission of the college and the ELCA," he said.

Degerman emphasized that Concordia is a welcoming community that does not require people to adhere to certain beliefs.

"At the same time, however, the college should not be expected to sanction and fund any group or organization that is in direct conflict with its mission and purpose," Degerman said.

Student organizations can request funding from the Student Government Association, reserve space on campus for meetings and publicize meetings.

The proposed constitution also said that full-time members of the club would need to join the American Atheists organization.

Kvernstuen said the group is removing that requirement and making other revisions to the constitution before asking Concordia officials to reconsider.

He said there may be misunderstanding about the purpose of the group, which is to serve students of similar interests.

"It is not in our nature, nor in our interest, to evangelize our point of view," Kvernstuen said.

Richard Gilmore, faculty adviser to the student group, said he understands why officials had concerns about the constitution as it was proposed.

However, Gilmore said he will be disappointed if Concordia does not recognize the group after students revise the constitution.

"Other fairly significant and progressive Lutheran colleges have no trouble with a secular club," said Gilmore, chairman of the philosophy department. "So I feel it is a little bit retro for us to consider it inconsistent with our mission."

Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter, also associated with the ELCA, has a group called the Gustavus Atheists' and Freethinkers' Forum.

Degerman said there is no appeal or review process for student organizations.

"A new proposal would be considered only if it included fundamental purpose changes that were not in conflict with Concordia's mission," Degerman said.

Amy Dalrymple is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.