Two Nigerian Universities taken to court for prohibiting Christian fellowships on campus since 2017

Two Nigerian Universities taken to court for prohibiting Christian fellowships on campus since 2017.
Two Nigerian Universities taken to court for prohibiting Christian fellowships on campus since 2017.

ADF International, in a statement released on Monday, has disclosed that legal action has been taken against two unnamed Nigerian universities for allegedly violating the right to religious freedom. According to the statement, the universities are being sued for imposing an indefinite ban on Christian groups from conducting fellowship meetings and worship activities on campus.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Katsina State branch, supported by the American conservative Christian legal advocacy group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF International), has filed a lawsuit against two universities in Katsina State. This legal action comes in response to the universities‘ indefinite ban on Christian groups from conducting fellowship meetings and worship activities on their campuses.

ADF International, in a statement released on Monday, disclosed that the lawsuit was filed against the two universities, citing violations of religious freedom. The universities were accused of “indefinitely prohibiting” Christian groups from conducting fellowship meetings and worship activities on campus.

As per ADF International, both public universities, one state-owned and one federal, implemented bans on the utilization of university facilities for Christian religious activities, including worship and fellowship, in 2017 and 2022. Despite calls to lift these bans, the universities have remained steadfast in their refusal to do so.

The Christian legal advocacy group noted that one of the universities, which was not named, implemented the ban by physically locking all worship and fellowship centers on university premises. This action prevented Christian students and groups from accessing these facilities and further prohibited them from gathering for worship and fellowship elsewhere on campus.

“Meanwhile, Muslim student groups at both universities have been permitted to hold worship and fellowship meetings in university-constructed worship and meeting spaces.

“Both universities have relatively high percentages of Christian students and faculty despite Katsina being a Muslim-majority state,” the statement added.

One Christian student in one of the universities was quoted as saying, “We only want to be able to freely gather and worship as Christians on equal terms with other religious faiths. It is wrong that our universities are preventing us from exercising our most basic, fundamental rights.”

Sean Nelson, the lead attorney on the case for ADF International, emphasized, “No individual should face discrimination based on their faith, and the actions taken by these state and federal universities are clearly unjust.”

“The world continues to watch as Nigerian authorities regularly violate the religious freedom rights of their citizens. This kind of discrimination against Christian students cannot be allowed to spread.

“These two universities should immediately revoke these discriminatory policies and allow Christians on their campuses to gather and worship freely.”

The CAN, which filed the lawsuits on behalf of the students, said that “The discrimination shown by these universities restricting Christian worship has been condemned by the local Christian community in Katsina as well as throughout Nigeria.

“It is worrisome to see such discrimination against Christians getting stronger. No government-run educational institution should be discriminating based on religion.

“We ask the rest of the world to condemn this discrimination as well and to join us in praying that the right to worship freely, on campus and elsewhere, will be fully restored.”

ADF International clarified that the lawsuit on behalf of the affected students was filed in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which safeguard the rights of Nigerian citizens to freedom of religion or belief. The organization underscored its support for the case, emphasizing its commitment to defending religious freedom globally.

ADF International commented on Nigeria’s religious freedom track record, highlighting that “The persecution of Christians in Nigeria, alongside other religious minorities, is particularly severe.”

“Worldwide, over 5,500 Christians were killed for their faith in 2022. Of those, 90% were Nigerian. At least 200 Christians were murdered by militants in Plateau State, Nigeria, this past Christmas.

“The criminalization of blasphemy in Nigeria carries with it dangerous implications for the country as a whole.

“In a country of more than 200 million, split nearly evenly between Christians and Muslims, blasphemy laws are a significant driver of societal tensions.

“These laws punish the innocent for expressing their beliefs, silence people from sharing their faith, and perpetuate societal violence.

“Blasphemy laws throughout Nigeria encourage brutal mob violence and inflict severe harm on minority Muslims, Christian converts, and others.

“ADF International is supporting the legal defence of Nigerian musician Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a Sufi Muslim who was sentenced to death by hanging in 2020 for sharing song lyrics that were deemed “blasphemous” on WhatsApp.

“With the support of ADF International, Yahaya is appealing his case to the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the hopes of overturning the death penalty blasphemy laws in Nigeria. Yahaya, imprisoned for nearly four years, is awaiting his appeal.

“ADF International is also providing support for the defense of Rhoda Jatau, a Nigerian Christian and mother of five. Jatau, who was granted bail recently, had been in prison since May 2022 for allegedly sharing a video on WhatsApp condemning the lynching of Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, a Nigerian university student. Yakubu was murdered and set on fire by a mob of her classmates in May 2022 for sharing her Christian faith. Rhoda is currently awaiting the continuation of her trial.”