Gay rights supporters and traditional Christians clash on US campuses

(Photo: Reuters / Christian Hartmann)Opponents of the same-sex marriage demonstrate against the government's draft law to legalise marriage and adoption for same-sex couples in Paris, November 18, 2012. France's Socialist government approved a draft law to allow same-sex marriage, saying the reform, under fire from religious leaders and conservative politicians, meant progress for the whole society. The law would grant gay couples the right to adopt children but not to use assisted procreation methods such as artificial insemination. Placards read, "The Family is Sacred" (L) and "No to Homosexual marriages".

Gays and some Christians on U.S. college campuses are facing off as the society at large deals with the burgeoning issue of homosexual rights.

Both homosexuals and traditional Christians approach matters from a social justice viewpoint.

Gays and their supporters in the U.S. believe their cause is one of civil rights as do people in countries such as France.

Christians opposed to gay marriage, on the other hand, hold the view that theirs involves religious liberty and free speech.

The most recent controversy involving a Catholic chaplain at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. and two gay students is seen by some as a microcosm of the battle.

Rev. Gregory Shaffer, a chaplain at the Newman Center at GWU is under fire for upholding the traditional view of the Church that homosexual behavior is wrong.

As a result, two gay students are calling for his ouster.

Seniors Blake Bergen and Damien Legacy have formally complained to the GWU administration about Father Shaffer's counseling students according to Catholic doctrine on homosexuality that conflicts with their own beliefs.

They have asked that he be removed from campus.

According to, Bergen and Legacy are supported by 10 other students who are creating a video arguing that the priest is the reason they have left the chapel.

However, Shaffer is garnering support from Catholic students at GWU and parishioners at St. Stephen Martyr Parish where he serves, according to the Catholic News Agency.

"I have never seen Father Greg be less than compassionate to any student on an issue of sexuality," parishioner Dawn Eden told CNA. "He's been instrumental in helping them find healing in Christ."

The priest is also receiving support from current and former students at the Newman Center.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue said that the case involves a "serious civil issue" and called for there to be a wide discussion at GWU on the meaning of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This amendment grants citizens freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

The Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement defending Shaffer. It said in part, "Despite the current cultural beliefs about homosexuality and same sex marriage, the teaching of the Catholic Church remains unchanged."

"Priests will continue to teach and counsel that following the ways of the Catholic Church and living our life in the way that Jesus taught us is not always easy."

In the past few years there have been clashes among students, faculty and staff over social issues which have created controversy.

Examples include:

* Earlier this year a Christian student at a Florida university was told to stomp on a piece of paper containing the name of Jesus as part of an assignment in class. He refused to do so and was threatened with suspension. The governor of Florida became involved.

* Last year the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Buffalo was derecognized by the school's Student Association after it expelled an openly gay student.

* In 2010 a Christian student in Georgia at Augusta State University was required to undergo gay sensitivity training. Administrators indicated that if she refused, she would not be granted a degree. The student filed a lawsuit.

* In 2006 Missouri State University settled a lawsuit by a student who was required to sign a letter to the state legislature supporting homosexual adoption.

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