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Palm Beach Atlantic won't ban gay group

BY KIMBERLY MILLER, Palm Beach Post

Palm Beach Atlantic University officials reconsidered their initial ban of a gay students' rights group from campus, offering members a space for a few hours on Monday to meet with select students and staff from the private Christian school.

But the group, called Soulforce, called the invitation too restrictive and said members planned to walk onto PBAU's downtown West Palm Beach campus at noon, hoping to conduct a more open forum.

''Unfortunately, the format is not conducive to reaching out to the Palm Beach Atlantic community in the spirit of open dialogue,'' a statement released by Soulforce on Wednesday said in reference to PBAU's offer.

``Additionally, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who need to hear our message of love and affirmation would not be reached in this format.''

Soulforce members are touring the South, visiting 15 mostly Christian colleges to discuss their belief that being gay is not a sin or incompatible with Christianity.

Most of the schools targeted by Soulforce, including PBAU, have policies against same-sex relationships, which school officials consider immoral and contradictory to biblical standards.

This is Soulforce's third annual ''Equality Ride,'' although Monday will be its first visit to a Florida school. This year's ''ride'' includes 17 young adults who travel in a tour bus and have been trained in nonviolent resistance and how to speak with students who have different religious beliefs.

Soulforce members are known for challenging school administrators with attempts to go onto private campuses, and past tours have resulted in trespassing arrests.

Initially, PBAU rejected Soulforce's request to visit, saying that after careful consideration the meeting would not ``meaningfully further the mission of either organization.''

PBAU spokeswoman Becky Peeling said a panel of faculty and staff members made that decision. Administrators later offered a compromise.

''After the Soulforce riders had persisted in their desire to visit our school, our leaders prayerfully felt that they should extend the courtesy of a private meeting,'' Peeling said. ``Our hope was that they would accept our offer, so that previously planned campus activities would not be disrupted.''

Soulforce's first stop this year was an Oct. 1 visit to Liberty University in Virginia. In 2006, several Soulforce members were arrested at Liberty, and the evangelical school initially banned Soulforce from campus again this year.

Liberty later agreed to allow five representatives on campus to talk to students.

On Monday, Soulforce stopped at Columbia International University in Columbia, S.C., where members were allowed to speak with students in a cordoned-off area near campus.

Soulforce is scheduled to arrive in West Palm Beach at 10 a.m. Monday.

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