Pay Your Enemies: The New Front in Campus Culture Wars

Can religious groups discriminate?  On college campuses, as we’ve noted, the issue often boils down to whether sponsored student clubs have the right to insist on restricting their leadership to students who share their faith.

Historian John Turner offers some thoughts on these continuing battles in a recent essay on The Anxious Bench.  As the author of the go-to book on Campus Crusade for Christ, Turner has some unique perspective to share on the issue.  As Turner concludes, “If universities actually believe in the diversity they attempt to promote, they have to make room for evangelical, Catholic, Muslim, and the many other student religious organizations.”

Also intriguing is the comment from “Marta L.”  As she points out, many campus groups object to having their student fees pay for groups to whom they are ideologically opposed.  Students at Texas A & M, for instance, did not want to pay to support an LGBT Resource Center.  If conservative groups want to be included in the diversity of campus life, Marta argues, they must be willing to enter into this community agreement.  Christian students, Marta says, must “be willing to fund groups that don’t represent them.”

She makes a crucial point.  It is one thing to welcome a true diversity of opinion to a university campus.  It is another thing to insist that every student pay for all of them.  In practice, a Catholic student group would likely fund groups that support ideas about contraception and abortion that are anathema to the Catholic Church.  Similarly, atheist or LGBT groups must pay for groups that explicitly discriminate against gays or the non-religious.

Can this be the new definition of diversity?  We must all agree not only to welcome, but to foot the bill for those with whom we fervently disagree?


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  1. I’m Marta L., the commenter you mentioned. Thank you for giving this post a wider read. I just discovered your site on a friend’s recommendation and was surprised (but pleased!) to see my comment in this post.

    Obviously I agree with my own stated opinion :-), but I would like to clarify one point. I don’t think this *has* to be connected to a respect for diversity, though it can be and I personally think the world would be a better place if more Christians did support their fellow students’ passions in this way. I’m a grad student, which means I’ve spent more than a decade in college at several different schools. And it’s just been my experience that as a student, you pay for groups that don’t interest you – including some that aren’t really relevant to your situation. Other students return the favor. It makes sense to me for those groups to be run by the students who actually participate in them, and if they’re actually serving students’ needs and aren’t contrary to the uni’s purpose, it seems reasonable for student fees to support them.

    An example: my current school has a Young Republicans chapter. I am very much a Democrat. I would never dream of objecting to my money supporting this group, because the conservative students’ money goes to support our liberal political group! There are a large number of other clubs I simply don’t care about – a fencing club, a foreign films club, and on down the line. My student fees support them, and I don’t object because I implicitly agree to this arrangement when I attend the college. I don’t think this gives me a right to have a say in how they’re run. Other arrangements are possible (e.g., perhaps my university could abolish student fees and students might pay the group directly, if they want to participate), but the way we do it with the university collecting and dispersing the fees seems simpler and more open to me. And as long as the conservative Christians don’t object to their $$$ going to groups they disapprove of, I think it’s fair for them to get money from students who approve of their principles. It’s an implicit social contract that makes student life richer, IMO, and works well for everyone’s benefit. It can also lead to tolerance of a sort, though I think true tolerance demands something a little more involved than this money-sharing agreement.

    And here I’ve done it again: a too-long comment. 🙂 You made my night by highlighting my Patheos comment here – being read is what every struggling bloggist wants most, I think!

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