Early last September, a first-year student noticed someone walking behind her as she left Harvard Yard. She says the struck up a conversation, thinking the tag-along was a fellow classmate looking for a friend.
But during the conversation, the first-year, who spoke on the condition of annonymity, says the discovered that her new 'friend' was primarily interested in inviting her to attend a worship service at the Boston Church of Christ.
"I told her I wasn't interested," the first-year recalls.
Despite her rejection, she says the church member would not take 'no' for an answer. The same church member began calling her and would try to talk to her in the Science Center. This behavior continued for the next three months, she says.
"She kept asking if I read the Bible, if I knew what it meant, if I wanted to have a different view of God," the first-year says.
Encounters between student members of the Boston Church of Christ and undergraduates are becoming a part of the Harvard experience, affected students and proctors say. University officials say recruitment tactics border on harassment while group members assert the right to share their religious beliefs.
The Church has been accused of being a 'cult' in the past by local religious leaders and by Harvard proctors.
And now the issue has come to a head before the Committee on College Life (COCL), an eleven member student-administrator committee chaired by Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '56 which makes recommendations on issues from randomization to faculty appointments.
Michael J. Hrnicek '96, himself a student member of the COCL, says he submitted an application to the committee last October in order to win recognition for his bible study group, Harvard Christians in Action.
Currently, College rules require 10 signatures and approval from the committee's secretary Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III before a student group is officially recognized by the college. Recognized groups may recruit members on campus, have access to University buildings and may apply for College funding.
But Hrnicek, the president of Harvard Christians in Action, and two of the group's ten signatories are members of the Boston Church of Christ.
University officials, including Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, have questioned the group's autonomy from the Boston Church of Christ and accuse members of harassing students.
Hrnicek says his group is independent from the Boston Church of Christ and the College's charges of harassment are in fact responses to members who are simply exercising their first amendment right to free
"I definitely intend to assert my right tofreedom of speech," he says. And Hrnicek believesthat right extends to inviting fellow students tochurch and to challenging students' religiousbeliefs.
Hrnicek says his efforts before the COCLrepresent a two-year struggle to gain recognitionfor his bible study group from the University.