Free to Discriminate?

Does a creationist have the right to free speech? That’s the question we’ve been wondering about here at ILYBYGTH lately, ever since arch-creationist Ken Ham got bumped from a talk at the University of Central Oklahoma. News from state legislatures brings up another campus challenge: Do student groups have the right to discriminate?campus-protest-getty-640x480

First, the update, thanks to Donna: According to Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis organization, he has been re-invited to UCO. Apparently, Ham will talk on campus, then move to a nearby church for a Q&A.

Today, we’ve got an even trickier free-speech/free-assembly question to examine. Should student groups be forced to abide by university anti-discrimination rules? Even for their own leaders? Americans United for Separation of Church and State lists a burgeoning new crop of state laws that would force campuses to make exceptions.

In Virginia, for example, a state senate subcommittee unanimously approved a new bill that would allow student groups to discriminate in their leadership choices. Emphasis added below:

Establishes several provisions for the protection of expressive activity on the campus of each public institution of higher education, including (i) permitting any individual who wishes to engage in noncommercial expressive activity on campus to do so freely, as long as such expressive activity does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the public institution of higher education and (ii) prohibiting any public institution of higher education from (a) denying a student organization any benefit or privilege available to any other student organization, or otherwise discriminating against a student organization, on the basis of the expressive activity of the members of such organization or (b) restricting a student organization’s ability to require any leader or other member of such organization to affirm and adhere to the organization’s sincerely held beliefs, comply with the organization’s standards of conduct, or further the organization’s self-defined mission or purpose.

Why do some conservatives see the need for such bills? As SAGLRROILYBYGTH may recall, evangelical groups on campus have been under fire for the past few years. Intervarsity, for example, has been derecognized on many campuses. Why? Because the group requires its leaders—not members, but leaders—to agree to its statement of belief. And that statement of belief includes traditional definitions of sexual morality.campus-free-speech-720

Conservative religious folks have long fretted about these definitions of discrimination and inclusion. Why can’t conservative evangelical student groups insist that their leaders share their ideas?

The rub comes once again with the question of university support. Speakers on campus are generally free to do whatever they want, short of issuing threats or starting riots. People can talk their heads off in public areas. There have been important exceptions, as when one professor physically attacked an anti-abortion speaker on the campus of UC-Santa Barbara. campus free speech berkely republicansIn Ken Ham’s case, he wasn’t merely speaking on campus. He was sponsored and promoted by the student government. Some student groups objected to university sponsorship of a speaker that they saw as beyond the pale of legitimate public speech.

Liberal critics make the same case against these student-group laws. In AU’s opinion, such laws are a travesty. As they put it,

Religious freedom is the right to believe—or not—as we see fit. It doesn’t include a right to discriminate—and especially not while using taxpayer dollars or using the tuition fees of the very students who are being excluded. Religious student groups, of course, still have First Amendment rights on campus. They have been able to access school facilities for their meetings and use school bulletin boards to advertise their events like any other group. But they don’t have the right to force public universities to subsidize discrimination. If student groups want to discriminate, they shouldn’t receive public university recognition, tuition fees, or state taxpayer money to do so.

What do you think? Should student groups be free to discriminate? Should public money support student groups that discriminate?

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Making Campus Conservative

Wowzers! Having apparently given up on appealing to anyone else, the House GOP has taken to playing Santa Claus to campus conservatives. Their new proposal for the Higher Education Act threatens to make conservative dreams come true.

According to Politico, the big story from the new bill is the sweeping change it will enact in federal student-loan policy. Here at ILYBYGTH, though, we’re more interested in the way it will redraw battle lines in higher-ed culture wars.

As we’ve discussed frequently, conservatives interested in higher education have fulminated ferociously about the recent spate of anti-conservative student protests. As I argued at HNN a while back, conservative legislative moves like the recent one in Wisconsin don’t actually plan to improve things, but rather hope to make political hay. The only effect, as someone once put it so wisely, will be to “write a vague sense of conservative outrage into the law books.”

Speech codes aren’t the only target of the new bill. It also throws a brontosaurus-sized bone to religious conservatives. As we’ve seen, evangelical groups such as Intervarsity have been de-recognized on many campuses. That means they can no longer use campus facilities. Unless they allow a more diverse group of people to be group leaders, they are no longer allowed to be official student groups.

The House bill promises to fix both problems. As Politico explains, the new bill would ban public colleges, at least, from enacting any sort of speech-restricting codes. Plus, no schools could de-recognize religious groups. As the bill’s language puts it, colleges could not deny

a religious student organization any right, benefit, or privilege that is generally afforded to other student organizations at the institution (including full access to the facilities of the institution and official recognition of the organization by the institution) because of the religious beliefs, practices, speech, membership standards, or standards of conduct of the religious student organization.

Will it work? Hard to say. As we all know from Schoolhouse Rock, there’s a long journey from bill to law. House GOP leaders might be willing to give up the evangelical-friendly parts of their bill to get the student-loan parts to succeed. Or they might scrap the provision about free speech to win on their sexual-assault rules.

Abortion and Social Justice at Yale

A pro-life student group at Yale University has been refused membership in a “social justice” organization.  Why?  Because, in the words of one student leader, “The pro-life, anti-choice agenda stands in the way of gender equity, and thus in the way of social justice.”

The controversy raises difficult questions: Is conservative religion still seen as a legitimate force for good?  For “social justice?”  Or has conservatism become irredeemably trapped by accusations of bigotry?  At least in the effete environs of Yale, it seems pro-life thinking has been stripped of its moral legitimacy.

Well-dressed Activists

Well-dressed Activists

The student group, Choose Life at Yale (CLAY), had been a provisional member of Dwight Hall, an umbrella group of student social-justice clubs.  Membership in Dwight Hall would have given CLAY access to meeting rooms and a sense of campus legitimacy.

Is pro-life a “social justice” cause?  Former CLAY president Michael Gerken thinks it is.  As he explained in the pages of First Things, CLAY members

realized that abortion has never been solely a matter of a baby’s life and liberty. It’s about the desperation and hopelessness of the mother that walked into the clinic. It’s about the grandfather who will never put that little girl in his lap. It’s about the classmates who will never sit next to her, and the boy who will never work up the courage to write her that awkward poem. It’s even about that friend who she would drift away from over the years, the successful sister who would make her insecure, and the God she’d curse when she lost her job and then her mortgage. The biggest lie in all this is that the choice to end (or to save) a life is a solitary one.

Of course, Yale will always have a special place in the history of conservatism and education.  It was William F. Buckley’s precocious expose of the godless atmosphere on campus that launched his career, and in many ways signaled the start of the modern conservative movement.

And college campuses have become leading forums to debate whether or not conservative religious ideas are legitimate traditions or vestiges of bigotry.  ILYBYGTH readers may remember a case at Tufts University a while back.  In that case, the evangelical student group Intervarsity was stripped of its official student-group status.  Other student groups complained that the prominent evangelical group represented an inherently bigoted worldview, one that did not recognize the full equality of homosexual students.

The current controversy at Yale represents a similar conundrum.  Do conservative religious groups automatically lose the right to participate in campus life?  Is it inherently bigoted to fight against abortion or gay marriage?  Perhaps most important, who gets to define “social justice?”

 

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?