Members of gay group arrested on MC campus, awaiting appearance before judge

Published 6:34 pm Friday, March 23, 2007

Five members of a gay rights group who were arrested after they walked onto the campus of Mississippi College are scheduled to appear before a judge later Thursday.

The five were among 20 members of the Soulforce Equality Ride who arrived at the private Baptist College to protest what the group claims are the school’s oppressive policies.

Mississippi College officials said Wednesday that Soulforce members would not be allowed on campus.

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“I’ve done this a few times now,” Katie Higgins, 24, of Charleston, S.C., said as she was handcuffed and put into a police van, according to a article.

On its Web site, Soulforce says it stands for “freedom for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.”

According to the Mississippi College student handbook, extramarital, premarital and homosexual behavior is not tolerated on campus. The handbook does not address banning homosexuals from enrollment.

Eric Pratt, Mississippi College vice president of Christian development, said Wednesday that the college has had extensive communications with the group.

“After some discussion with the group, as well as faculty and student leaders, we said the group couldn’t come on campus,” Pratt said.

He said Soulforce had said it would not follow university rules for all on campus guests and that’s when the college decided the group could not visit campus.

Some students supported the group’s right to visit the school, however.

“While I disagree with them, I believe we should welcome them,” 20-year-old student Alex Touchstone, of Meridian, said.

“Jesus loves them the same as he loves us.”

Four of the group’s members were arrested when they stepped off a public sidewalk and onto the grass in front of the college’s administration building. The fifth was arrested about an hour later for the same thing.

About 100 students and faculty watched the arrest and about six students stood with the group in solidarity.

About a dozen Clinton police officers were at the college in response to the group’s arrival. The department’s SWAT vehicle also was on campus.

Michael Ide, 23, one of the coordinators for Soulforce’s Mississippi College trip, said the group had been in contact with several students who expressed their support.

“We feel that our message of equality in the eyes of God and in society is an important message that many students want to hear and need to hear,” Ide said.