There is nowhere where free speech is more important than colleges and Universities. These years are the most academically formative years of our lives. According to the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, “Freedom of speech is a fundamental American freedom and a human right, and there’s no place that this right should be more valued and protected than America’s colleges and universities. A university exists to educate students and advance the frontiers of human knowledge, and does so by acting as a “marketplace of ideas” where ideas compete. The intellectual vitality of a university depends on this competition—something that cannot happen properly when students or faculty members fear punishment for expressing views that might be unpopular with the public at large or disfavored by university administrators.”

So why, we ask in this article, does Cedarville continue to silence and censor opposing viewpoints?

Act I: The Purge

In 2009, Cedarville’s student newspaper Cedars received backlash after it published controversial articles about modesty panels, ROTC, and other non-conservative viewpoints, none of which had been reviewed by University administration. In response to the outcry of alumni and conservative leaders, Cedarville University caved and began requiring articles written by staff to be pre-approved prior to publication. The problem is, this policy led to Cedars becoming nothing less than the propaganda mouth of Cedarville. Most of the staff of Cedars, including its faculty advisor, recognized that this was wide-scale censorship and quit in protest. Cedarville wouldn’t budge on its policy, and several of these students still wanted their journalism to make a difference. Thus, The Ventriloquist was born. The Ventriloquist existed as an indepdendent student-run newspaper who sought to publish four issues per academic year. They ended up publishing thirteen issues between 2010-2014 in addition to some articles criticizing the Purge of 2013-2014.

Before the White era of censorship began, The Ventriloquist had a cordial relationship with the University under the Brown-Ruby administration. Of course, The Ventriloquist advocated many ideas the University did not support, but they were given a grant from the University to print their publication and distribute it on campus. Dr. Ruby even went to lunch with the editor at the time to talk about the role the paper played at Cedarville.

Enter Dr. Thomas White.

The Purge began with the removal of dozens of members of Cedarville’s faculty and staff, including anyone who dissented incoming president Dr. White’s specific ways of doing things. Victims of the purge include Dr. Carl Ruby, Dr. Michael Pahl, Dr. T.C. Ham, Dr. Shawn Graves, Robert Rohm, Dr. Andy Runyan, Shelly Nutter, Nancy Ranger, Dr. Dan Ebert, Dr. David Mills, Dr. Carl B. Smith, Dr. David Mills, Dr. William Rudd, and Rev. Chris Williamson. According to the Justice Collective, there are many more names that cannot be added to the list because hey were forced to sign NDAs or risk loss of severance pay. Furthermore, many “self-purged” because they could no longer stand abuse from the administration. Reverend Williamson wrote:

“The board of trustees repeatedly mishandled God’s servants while virtually ignoring the cries of students and alumni alike. Any hint of due process was abandoned, and the ability to have respectful dialogues on key issues was non-existent. I resigned because I could no longer be associated with a group that was constantly untruthful and unjust.”

Accoring to FIRE, “The right to due process refers to the idea that governmental authorities must provide fair, unbiased, and equitable procedures when determining a person’s guilt or innocence.”

This lack of due process is continued by this the same board of trustees we know today: Dr. White’s personal theological echo-chamber. While the president does get blamed for pretty much everything, we have to remember that the board of trustees was here before him and initiated the purge. Dr. Brown tried to turn the school around, but in Joshua Steele’s article for The Ventriloquist in 2013 hit the nail on the head when he called the incoming administration “The New Cedarville of 20 years ago.” But what did that mean for The Ventriloquist? When the team tried to distribute the April 2014 issue of the paper, as they had done for four years prior, Dr. White and Dr. Wood roamed the campus physically seizing copies of the paper. You heard me right: because of the crime of exercising free speech, differing ideas, and voicing student opinions that did not fall in line with Cedarville, the heads of the administration took time away from their important work of leading the University to physically silence The Ventriloquist.

Now, to clear up a major rumor that we have fallen victim to as well: the editor of The Ventriloquist was not removed from Cedarville. However, Cedarville did remove the professors listed above for believing differently than the University. Cedarville may not be as strict now as under the Dixon administration (spoiler alert: skirts aren’t actually more modest), but any viewpoint deemed as more “Liberal” is instantly silenced. Dr. Pahl was removed two months after immigrating from Alberta for not lining up with every single belief of the University. If it cannot be silenced, kiss your tenure, job, scholarship, leadership position, enrollment, or professorship goodbye.

The Show Goes On: Continued Censorship

After Cedarville had its fifteen months of fame after shutting down The Ventriloquist and firing a plethora of liberal insurgents, they shifted their approach in order to shy away from the limelight. Nowadays, Cedarville has become much more subtle in their methods of censorship. I cannot tell you how many messages we received saying Cedarville silenced me. They have silenced the conversation on mental health. They have silenced the conversation on the LGBTQ+ community (don’t worry, our little gay rebels, we’ve got a doosie coming for you here soon). They have silenced the conversation on female leadership. They have silenced the conversation on a non-six day creation (which, does it really matter if God created the world in six literal days or created it so perfectly that over a period of many years it formed into the world we know today?) Despite what they said in chapel on Monday, they have silenced the conversation on discrimination and sexual assault and relational violence and tried to hide scandal after scandal after scandal after scandal after scandal, censorship after censorship after censorship after censorship after censorship, belittlement after belittlement. They have silenced conversations created by secular voices by limiting materials professors may provide to their students (hey guess what, Dr. White? Boobies and bad words exist *gasp* and students will find that out whether or not the cirriculum covers it. It only comes down to whether they learn about it from culture or with a Biblical foundation. Wait–wasn’t that the whole reason Christian colleges are a thing? I digress…)

It comes down to this: tow the University line or tow yourself to another University. Do you know why The Ventriloquist got shut down? They published an article exposing the fact that Dr. Wood removed a student from leadership for being gay (oh, and they were also celibate and under full conviction that their desires were ungodly, but let’s just ignore that part).

Cutting the Strings: Where do we go from here?

You may be thinking…uh, hey yo Interpeter, this does not bode well for you. You would be right. Should we be scared of censorship? Most definitely. Are we? Absolutely not, and for two reasons that eats away at administrative staff who would have our website, Instagram, and Twitter (well, maybe not. Our three followers aren’t much of a threat. Please follow us) removed in a heartbeat if they could.

  1. Truth always wins. Believe it or not, there is justice in this world. In fact, that justice is out-of-this-world because God brings justice to all things in the end. We truly believe that the truth we expose through our articles bring glory to God, as does all truth. The light of truth outshines darkness and exposes abuse, restores victims, and enriches communities.
  2. We’re anonymous. Yeah, it’s that simple. There is no way for Cedarville University to know who we are. The Ventriloquist suffered primarily from exposure, making them an easy target for disciplinary actions. Unfortunately, everything from our domain registration, IP address, email addresses, and social media accounts are 100% unequivocally anonymous. I did hear reports of an undercover police vehicle on campus today, however, which gave me pause.

So here’s the bottom line: Let your voice be heard, whether through The Cedarville Interpreter or your own avenues, but know that we are here for you. We are 100% student-run, student-led, and student-written. Our goal is logical, accurate, and impactful reporting. There is no such thing as censorship here at the Interpreter. If Cedarville takes issue with that, then the student body should take issue with Cedarville.

7 thoughts on “The Puppetmaster: Cedarville’s Interminable History of Censorship

  1. I am happy to see your publication hit the streets. It is needed to counter the neanderthal occupying the office of the President of Cedarville. The guy should have been fired for his hiring of Anthony Moore, but the majority of the Board is as twisted as the neanderthal in office. I wish you all the success in the world, yours is not a work for the faint of heart. Personally, I would never attend the “university”, nor would recommend it to anyone.

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  2. Thank you for this submission. Lots of things you say are good and should be dealt with, however, do you really think you’re going about it the right way? The tearing down of authority, I feel, is not the best way to make change. First, I feel that some of the ideas portrayed here bring lots of disrespect to the leadership here. I’m all for exposure and trying to bring change, but the disgrace too? Second, watch out for a pendulum swing too far to the other side. The reason they have to be strict on purity (citing from another article found here) is because there is a fear of going too far. Is it a sin to share a blanket? No! Is it a sin to hold hands? No! Is it a sin to kiss in chapel? No, however it would make some few uncomfortable, but still no. They are too strict here, but it’s also because of a fear of abuse of freedom. Secondly, I disagree with the firing of a gay person. They should be allowed to work if they understand that they struggle with that and do not act on it, however, if you look at the other side of the coin, what happens when a gay person gets on some sort of staff position and starts acting upon temptation? There is always two sides to every situation. Overall, I like what the interpreter is doing and I find the articles (if for no other reason) entertaining. But, watch out for a blatant disrespect of authority (1 Sam 24:6) and for a pendulum swing. If you want to talk more about this, I’d be happy to. In conclusion, I like what you are doing by calling out things the college is doing wrong and can make better, just be careful about how you go about doing it.

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