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Proselytization: godly or just God-awful?

CLAIRE C. LAURENCE/Arizona Summer Wildcat
Journalism freshman Max Stettner worships during Shabbat at the Hillel Center early Saturday evening.
By Mitra Taj
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
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You have the right to say no.

Sure, you've probably already been told that you can say no to drugs, sexual advances and Krispy Kreme donuts, but what about that guy in your class who's been pressuring you to convert to his religion?

The University Religious Council is reminding students that "no" should be enough, and has identified lines that religious organizations shouldn't cross when proselytizing on campus.

URC secretary Randi Kiesel, said last year certain groups went too far in their recruitment efforts, generating complaints in the offices of the president, the dean of students, and with the university religious council.

The URC has created a pamphlet, distributed around campus and in residence halls, describing inappropriate religious conduct and telling students they don't have to take it.

"It's about telling students they have the right to say no - or yes - if they want to," Kiesel said. "But if the group insists on being pushy in the student's life, the council can talk to them about it."

Kiesel said students being harassed by a religious group should call their RA or hall director, the Office of the Dean of Students, the University Religious Council and, if necessary, 911.

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"We're hoping that if people have problems they'll speak out about it," she said.

Freshmen can be more vulnerable to inappropriate religious conduct, Kiesel said. "They're away from home for the first time and have a hard time saying no. They don't want to hurt someone's feelings."

Because some religious organizations require members to meet a given quota of new converts periodically, aggressive proselytizing can result, Kiesel said.

"The mission can get nasty and rude when they start telling other people they're going to hell because they believe in Buddha," Kiesel said.

So, what kind of behavior is considered inappropriate?

  • Failing to identify the group's identity or intentions.

  • Making persistent unwanted phone calls or visits

  • Trying to pry personal information out of you

  • Pressuring you to limit your social interaction with others

  • Making you feel bad for not joining, spending time with or donating money to the group

    Religious Organizations

    Want religion?

    The UA has it. Almost 40 campus clubs and more than 20 organizations offer new students the opportunity to get in touch with their spiritual side.

    About two-thirds of the groups are affiliated with Christian teachings, including the Asian Bible Fellowship, the Quaker University Organization, the Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International and the 200-plus members of Wildcats for Christ.

    The non-Christian groups span the religious spectrum. The Baha'i Association promotes the "oneness of humanity" while the 515 members in the Muslim Students Association promote understanding and tolerance of Islam.

    The Arizona Student Pagans get together weekly to socialize and discuss Paganism.

    The 36 religious university clubs together claim more than 5,000 members. The University Religious Council, made up of 22 religious organizations, adds to the religious activities students take part in.

    The mission of the Hillel Foundation, an organization with more than 3,000 members, is to provide Jewish students with an environment that "fosters enhancement of Jewish life."

    Representatives from each URC group and the dean of students meet once a month during the school year.

    "We try and work in harmony with each other even though we all have different beliefs," said Randi Kiesel, URC secretary.

    To see a listing of university clubs, go to

    The University Religious Council can be contacted at 520-623-1692.

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