Rutgers student told not to quote Bible in essay because of 'separation of church and state'

After quoting a popular Bible verse to back up his assertion about the tenets of Christianity in his college essay, a student at Rutgers University-New Brunswick says he was told to avoid quoting Bible verses in academic papers because of the "separation of church and state" and the potential to offend non-Christians.

Political science student and Campus Reform correspondent Peter Cordi was assigned an autobiographical paper in his “Intro to Gender, Race, and Sexuality” class last semester. In his paper, Cordi referenced a personal friend of his who struggles with his own homosexual identity, especially given the views of the individual’s mother. Cordi wrote about how his friend's mother cites her Christain religion and beliefs to justify her opinion of people who identify as gay.

Cordi is a Christain who disagrees with his friends’ mother's views toward members of the LGBT community and quoted scripture from the Bible to support his position. Cordi quoted the popular verse John 3:16 from the Bible: “For God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life."

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In grading Cordi’s paper, Professor Kathe Sandler included her remarks next to Cordi’s use of the quote, telling the student that his use of a quote from the Bible was inappropriate.

“Avoid quoting scripture in academic papers unless you are commenting on scripture,” Sandler wrote. 

Cordi told Campus Reform that he was taken by surprise at receiving a B+ grade on the assignment since the criticism regarding the Bible quote was one of only two critical comments left on his paper. Cordi sought reassurance that he did not lose a full letter grade as a result of quoting the Bible, especially since Sandler had permitted students to use outside sources for the assignment. 

Shortly after receiving the grade, Cordi decided to reach out to Sandler over email about the matter, and she responded by saying she’d be happy to discuss it with him in further detail in person. 

In an exclusive recording of this conversation, Sandler can be heard elaborating on her written remarks by reminding Cordi of “separation of church and state” and that the Bible “may not be for everyone." When Cordi asked if the professor found the use of scripture offensive she replied by saying “I think for instance this wouldn't work for a Muslim or Jewish person."

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“Students at any institution should be encouraged to research and utilize any sources that they deem relevant to the topic at hand. Many universities within the United States have accepted a dangerous and narrow-minded rhetoric, such as prohibiting Bible scripture, which often leads to a biased and one-sided culture,” Rutgers student David Abayev told Campus Reform.

“My right to free speech and religion have certainly been violated. Separation of church and state is supposed to protect the church from the state, and if I want to quote the Bible and say that Jesus loves everybody, then it is my right to do so whether you're a Christian or not,” Cordi told Campus Reform.

“A person should be able to quote whatever he pleases, either for or against his argument. [The] Bible would be an excellent source of quotes as many people are well versed with the scripture, and feel deeply connected to the words of the Bible,” Rutgers student Lawrence Chiang, who is atheist, commented. 

"It is common for religious people to quote religious literature. As an atheist, I believe that religious views can be scrutinized, but never be silenced,” Chiang added.

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Abayev shared a similar sentiment to Chiang’s on not being offended by the use of Bible scripture, “As a non-Christian, I am in no way offended by Cordi’s reference of the Bible. It is important to understand and be accepting of different cultures and beliefs, even if they don’t align with your own. Instead of criticizing their students, professors should embrace the use of historical and religious text, as it embodies a large part of our world’s history.”

Chiang also believes it is within anyone's right to freedom of expression when referencing the Bible. 

“The Bible is an important piece of literature for Christians. For non-Christian writers, they can use the Bible as a means to present their ideas, and effectively deliver their messages to Christians. Even using the Bible as a source to back up derogatory remarks such as homophobia should be allowed. The professors can comment on the homophobic remarks, but the remarks should not be silenced," Chiang said. 

In his conversation with his professor, Cordi explained why he believed that his use of the Bible was entirely appropriate and necessary since he would not expect his readers to simply take his word on how Jesus would not be supportive of the hateful mother in his story. He believed that using a direct line from the Bible would make an objective point about the tenets of Christianity. 

However, Sandler insisted it was not necessary, asking “do you need the scriptures? Do you really need the scripture?"

"I think you could work without the scripture, but that's my personal opinion,” she argued.

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When Campus Reform asked Cordi about whether or not he generally feels safe to voice his opinions in his class, he went on to discuss past memorable moments from this course during the semester, “absolutely not. This class suffers from a wild case of groupthink and I was able to watch it unfold first hand. When nobody disagrees with each other, their views just become more radical and polarized.”

“There hasn't been one shred of objectivity this whole semester. We don't get to hear both sides of the story. Everything we read is taken as fact regardless of how outlandish and biased it is. There are good reasons to not be a feminist for example- it doesn't mean you're sexist,” Cordi added.

But Cordi still believes that some good has come out of the situation. 

“I'm just glad that despite living in a secular bubble, some people will perhaps hear the gospel for the first time as a result of this. Nobody should be afraid to voice their religious or political beliefs in America- if you're afraid to offend people then you're afraid of individual thought.”

Campus Reform reached out to professor Sandler for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @realJoshAminov