Want to Understand the Culture Wars? Start Here…

Even if you don’t share ILYBYGTH’s obsessive fascination with America’s culture wars, you probably noticed a few of its recent battles. Can a baker refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding? Can cheerleaders at a public school cheer for Jesus? As a recent article reminds us, if we really want to understand these fights, we need to look beyond Bibles and bakeshops. The behind-the-scenes power of legal activist groups has always fueled these culture-war battles.

kountze-cheerleaders

The culture-war trenches. But not the culture-war Pentagon.

It has been this way from the very beginning. Back in 1925, the furious creation/evolution fight in Tennessee would never have happened if it weren’t for the influence of the American Civil Liberties Union. Sure, proto-creationists had passed a sweeping anti-evolution law. And, yes, plenty of people had noticed the goings-on in state legislatures. (I flesh out the full context in my book about educational conservatism.) But only when the ACLU offered to sponsor a legal challenge did the Scopes Trial actually gain momentum.

In our century it has been the same. SAGLRROILYBYGTH remember the case from Kountze, Texas. Starting in 2012, cheerleaders at the high school began displaying huge banners with Christian Biblical messages. It’s easy to see how such outright religious preaching at a public school might ruffle feathers. But it was only when the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation intervened that the case became a national sensation.

This sort of legal activism has not been limited to the liberal side. As Daniel Bennett describes at Religion & Politics, the conservative religious Alliance Defending Freedom has scored impressive legal victories over the past decade. As Professor Bennett notes, ADF has repeatedly made its case at the US Supreme Court, in favor of the right of bakers to discriminate against homosexual weddings or in favor of the right of religious schools to receive tax money.

adf logo

A culture-war army of well-dressed lawyers…

These days, as Bennett describes, ADF employs forty full-time attorneys, sniffing out ways to project the power of conservative religious values in the public square. ADF takes in tens of millions of dollars per year to stake out the legal rights of conservative Christians in a secularizing society.

Headlines talk about creationism, public prayer, and transgender issues. Time and time again, it has been the Alliance Defending Freedom who has pushed these cases into the limelight, defending the rights of radical creationist scientists, anti-transgender pastors, or Christian prayer leaders at public town meetings.

Cheerleaders and bakers matter, of course. In order to understand how these cases move from local controversies to national symbols, though, we need to recognize the influence of legal activist groups.

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Culture Wars Update: Who’s Winning?

Is the sky falling for progressives like me? In The Atlantic, journalist Molly Ball argues that liberals are losing the culture wars. The same topic just came up in our recent panel of educational historians. Is Ball right?

Four horsemen?

Four horsemen?

She looked at the results of the recent mid-term elections. In Ohio, voters rejected recreational marijuana. In Houston, they voted against gender-neutral bathrooms. In San Francisco, they booted an immigration-friendly sheriff. In Virginia, gun control struggled. In Kentucky, Kim Davis’s brand of in-your-face culture-war bluster helped win the governor’s office.

Ball’s conclusion?

taken together these results ought to inspire caution among liberals who believe their cultural views are widely shared and a recipe for electoral victory.

Fair enough. But not surprisingly, our all-star panel of historians came to different conclusions. To historians, these electoral losses don’t seem so cataclysmic. After all, consider the historical context: people are voting about making pot legal. Can you really deny Andrew Hartman’s argument that the echoes of the 1960s are dominated by the accents of hippies?

And yes, Houston lost its push for bathrooms that recognize the fluidity of gender. But look again: Who lost? The city in Texas with the openly gay mayor, that’s who.

We can make the same case for the other elections as well. Yes, conservatives here and there will have some successes in blocking the progressive changes that continue to roll through our society. Such blocking maneuvers, however, are a rearguard action.

Voting against gender-neutral bathrooms does not change the fact that we are now considering gender-neutral bathrooms. Thirty years ago—heck, even five years ago—that would not have been up for debate.

I think we need a more nuanced answer to the question of winning and losing when it comes to our culture wars. In my recent book, I looked at the educational activism of conservatives during the twentieth century. A lot of the time, they won. But just as with these recent cases, conservatives tended to succeed only in blocking or delaying certain limited sections of progressive change. Progressives still set the cultural agenda.

Here’s my two cents: first of all, I agree with our dean of educational historians, Jon Zimmerman. Jon argued this week that it is mostly meaningless to talk about winning or losing in this context. As does this Atlantic article, talk about winning or losing is usually a tactic to rally the faithful of each side, not a clear-headed analysis of shifting cultural trends.

Having said that, I think we can discern a century-long trend with these sorts of fights. In every case, conservatives might win or lose the specific battle. They do not win the war. What they do win, time after time, is the right to be listened to, the right to be considered part of the conversation about these issues.

For progressives like me and most of my friends, progressive change seems like an obviously good idea. Of course people should be able to smoke pot if they want. Of course transgender people should be able to use appropriate bathrooms. Of course guns should be controlled, immigrants welcomed, and same-sex marriage rights should be honored.

When we see election results like this one, though, we are reminded that not everyone agrees with us. When we see how strongly people disagree, we should not tear our hair and gnash our teeth. We should not lament the narrow-mindedness of our fellow citizens.

Rather, we should recognize the vast differences between Americans when it comes to these issues. As we do here at ILYBYGTH, we should do our best to understand and even sympathize with those voters who disagree with us.

After all, the only real victory in our bitter culture wars will come when we can respect those with whom we disagree.

Conservatives against Kim Davis

Which side are you on?

That’s the question that fuels most of our culture-war animosity. Instead, the question we should all be asking is this: What’s the right thing to do? In the case of same-sex refusenik Kim Davis, some conservative intellectuals and pundits are willing to break ranks and see the bigger picture.

In case you’ve been milking the last warm days of summer and haven’t seen this story, Kim Davis is the Kentucky county clerk who has been jailed and released for her refusal to issue same-sex marriage certificates. Opportunistic conservative politicians such as Mike Huckabee have promoted Davis as a conservative Christian hero, stage-managing Davis’s release as an American triumph, equal parts Christianity Triumphant and Rocky III.

Governor Huckabee’s shameful pandering to frustrated Christian voters should be an embarrassment for every conservative out there. But progressives also could stay a little classier in this case. For those like me on the progressive side of things, the furor and venom over the Kim Davis case burst onto our Facebook feeds like a sweaty middle-school pimple. I don’t agree with Davis’s refusal to do her job, but I also think it is counter-productive and petty to attack Davis’s hairstyle.

Missing the point...

Missing the point…

We could all learn a lesson from a few conservatives who refuse to conform to their culture-war scripts. Fox News anchor Shep Smith, for example, earned the ire of conservative viewers for pointing out the obvious hypocrisy in the case. Critiquing the Huckabee rally, Smith commented,

They set this up as a religious play again. This is the same crowd that says, ‘We don’t want Sharia law, don’t let them tell us what to do, keep their religion out of our lives and out of our government.’

Predictably, conservative Fox News viewers reacted furiously, calling Smith a “puke” and accusing him of “anti-Christian bias.”

But Smith was not alone. Conservative intellectuals also took issue with Davis’s brand of publicity-hogging culture-warriorism. Writing in the pages of The American Conservative, crunchy conservative Rod Dreher warned that Davis had ignored the central point of civil disobedience. Dreher argues,

It’s clear that there are many Christians who support Kim Davis because she’s doing something, even if that something is arguably counterproductive. This is unwise. . . . If the public comes to think of religious liberty as the constitutionally guaranteed right to ignore the Constitution whenever it suits us, the cause of religious liberty — which is guaranteed by the First Amendment — is going to suffer tremendously. Conservatives are supposed to understand the difference between the vice of cowardice and the virtue of prudence. If religious liberty means that even officers of the state can defy the law without consequence, then it makes every individual a potential tyrant.

Writing from the conservative bastion of the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker made a similar point. While Moore and Walker bemoaned the “judicial overstep” and “government inaction” that led to this situation, they did not excuse Davis’s reckless behavior. “We must recognize,” they note,

the crucial difference between the religious liberty claims of private citizens and government officials. Let us be clear: Government employees are entitled to religious liberty, but religious liberty is never an absolute claim, especially when it comes to discharging duties that the office in question requires. While government employees don’t lose their constitutional protection simply because they work for the government, an individual whose office requires them to uphold or execute the law is a separate matter than the private citizen whose conscience is infringed upon as a result of the law. It means the balancing test is different when it comes to government officials because of their roles as agents of the state. Government officials have a responsibility to carry out the law. When an official can no longer execute the laws in question due to an assault on conscience, and after all accommodating measures have been exhausted, he or she could work for change as a private citizen, engaging the democratic process in hopes of changing the questionable law.

We must be very clear about the distinctions here between persons acting as an agent of the state and persons being coerced by the state in their private lives. If the definition becomes so murky that we cannot differentiate between the freedom to exercise one’s religion and the responsibility of agents of the state to carry out the law, religious liberty itself will be imperiled.

For these brave conservative commentators, agreement with Davis’s opinion of same-sex marriage did not mean an automatic endorsement of Davis’s actions. All of us could learn from their example.

Those of us who consider ourselves progressives should commit to examine every case with the same gimlet eye. Just because we agree with someone’s position in general does not mean we must agree with their actions in every case.

Conservatives should be reminded to differentiate between today’s headlines and the big picture. Civil disobedience is a right and duty of us all, at times. But not every act of civil disobedience is equal, and civil disobedience has never meant simply flouting the laws we don’t like.

More important, we must all be willing to speak up against our own “side” when it is in the wrong. The first question should not be “Which side are you on?” but always “What is the right thing to do?”

Teachers, Tests, and Gay Marriage

Quick: What do high-stakes tests have to do with gay marriage? Michael Petrilli argues that teachers who discourage students from taking the tests are like government officials who refuse to issue same-sex marriage certificates. Whether you like his argument or not, Petrilli is drawing on a long but ambivalent American tradition.

By now you’ve heard of Kim Davis. She is the county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky. She has attracted national attention with her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Heroically flouting the Constitution?

Heroically flouting the Constitution?

Petrilli, in many ways the leading public voice of market conservatism in education, implies that progressives might not want to be so quick to condemn Davis’s pugnacious policy. After all, Petrilli writes, many progressive teachers these days encourage parents to opt-out of high-stakes tests. Are those teachers similar to Davis? Petrilli asks,

Here the question isn’t whether parents have a right to excuse their children from taking the state assessment. (They almost certainly do.) The issue is whether educators can face sanctions for encouraging parents to engage in an act of civil disobedience. Is that akin to refusing to give the test (which surely is reason for dismissal)? What if they merely inform parents of their rights?

As I argued in my recent book, this argument about the role of teachers has long roots. When it comes to educational culture wars, the winds have blown both ways. When conservatives felt that school law enforced their side, they insisted teachers must obey. When they felt otherwise, they lauded brave teachers who resisted.

Back in the 1920s, for example, William Jennings Bryan knew he had popular opinion on his side. He refused to allow teachers to teach evolution against the wishes of their local communities. As Jennings famously argued back then, “The hand that writes the paycheck rules the school.”

Similarly, when left-leaning teachers from the 1930s through the 1950s were thought to be too friendly to communism, conservative activists insisted on teacher obedience. In 1950s Pasadena, for instance, conservative leader Louise Padelford blasted progressive teachers who sought to drill suggestible students in the need for “social change,” rather than simply teaching “reading, writing, spelling, grammar, arithmetic, history, etc.”

When the shoe is on the other foot, of course, conservatives have praised teachers for bravely resisting the dictates of educational higher-ups. Writing from the Pacific Justice Institute, for instance, Brad and Susanne Dacus have offered teachers a handy guide for safely and legally evangelizing in public schools. Too many teachers, the Dacuses warn, cower before the seemingly invincible might of secularism. “Would you be willing,” they ask,

to take a stand for the sake of the young, innocent children who are bombarded by a pro-homosexual agenda? As a parent, would you be willing to stand up for your child’s right to express his religious views? Many are timid about standing by the Word of God when it has the potential to create a ruckus. Reading through the Gospels reminds us that Christ was not afraid to make a ruckus in the name of truth. The New Testament, especially the book of Acts, focuses on the apostles’ goal to take a stand for the Gospel, regardless of the circumstances. We are not alone in this challenge. Be reminded of the verse in Joshua, which says,

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you, wherever you go.”

To be fair, Petrilli will have none of this argument. He specifically notes, for instance, that public-school science teachers have a responsibility to teach evolution—and only evolution—as science. If they don’t like it, they can resign.

Petrilli’s argument, like those of other conservative activists going back a hundred years, relies on the fact that we Americans aren’t quite sure of what we want teachers to do.

Do we expect teachers to be brave rule-flouters, a la Dead Poets Society?

Or instead to we insist that teachers embody “the rules,” a la Principal Skinner?

The correct answer, of course, is “Yes.” We Americans expect the impossible of our teachers. We count on them to be both daring iconoclasts and sober rule-followers. We depend on them to encourage students to wonder and to inhibit students from wiggling.

So is Michael Petrilli right? Are dissenting teachers like dissenting county clerks? Only half. In the American tradition, teachers do indeed have to embody the rules and respect for the rules. But teachers also have to embody the right moral decisions, even when those decisions go against the rules.

Is THIS the Future for Christian Colleges?

Now what do we do? That is the question plaguing conservative college administrators nationwide. Since the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriages, many evangelical schools have wondered if they will have to change the way they do things. In Michigan, Hope College has announced its accommodation with the ruling. Will other Christian colleges do the same thing?

The gateway to the future?

The gateway to the future?

As the Sophisticated and Good-Looking Regular Readers of I Love You but You’re Going to Hell (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) are well aware, questions of homosexuality and same-sex marriage have long bedeviled evangelical colleges. For non-evangelicals, it might come as a surprise to hear that the issue is contentious. After all, at most evangelical schools, the official doctrine clearly and resolutely condemns homosexual activity.

Yet at all sorts of schools, the campus community is much more welcoming. At Gordon College recently, the president’s reminder that the school officially bans “homosexual practice” brought furious protests from students and faculty. Even at the far more conservative Liberty University, faculty members do not always take the harsh tone we progressives might expect.

As our Supreme Court decided the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage, many evangelicals fretted that their decision would trash traditional rules on their campuses.

At Hope College in Michigan—a school in the Reformed Church tradition—the leadership and campus has experienced similar turbulence on the issues of homosexuality. In 2010, for example, the administration provoked protests when it banned the film Milk. More recently, the campus has welcomed homosexual student organizations, though the administration has continued to endorse the Reformed position on homosexuality.

In its most recent announcement, the school’s leaders have declared their intention to abide by the SCOTUS decision. From now on, same-sex married partners of college employees will be eligible for the same benefits as heterosexual partners. The administration again affirmed its respect for the Reformed Church’s official doctrine that homosexuality is a sin. That does not mean, however, that the school will contravene the law.

Is this the path other schools will follow? Unlike pluralist colleges, evangelical schools face intense pressure to stay true to traditional beliefs and norms. As Professor Michael Hamilton wrote in his study of Wheaton College,

The paradigm that has dominated Wheaton through the century holds that colleges, more than any other type of institution, are highly susceptible to change, and that change can only move in one direction—from orthodoxy toward apostasy. . . . The very process of change, no matter how slow and benign it may seem at first, will always move the college in a secular direction, inevitably gathering momentum and becoming unstoppable, ending only when secularization is complete.

Hope College may find itself the front line for this debate within the Reformed Church in America. The church as a whole has gone back and forth for decades about the proper Christian reaction to homosexuality. Is it better to embrace the sinner? Or to drive out the sin? Conservatives within the RCA will doubtless take this announcement as proof that Hope has gone soft. Progressives will celebrate it as a small step towards equity.

Other evangelical schools will face similar scrutiny. If they openly welcome homosexual students, faculty, and staff, they will be subject to withering condemnation from conservatives. If they don’t, however, they’ll risk being sidelined, branded as anti-gay bigots.

The Coming Split at Conservative Colleges

Is your school for bigots?…Or for apostates? That’s the choice that conservative school leaders have faced throughout the twentieth century. And it is coming round again. As the US Supreme Court hears arguments about same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, conservative religious schools and colleges should gear up for another divisive debate over equality and theology. If SCOTUS rules in favor of same-sex marriage, will evangelical and fundamentalist schools face a return to the hot tempers of 1971?

More bad news for conservatives...

More bad news for conservatives…

The case itself is a combination of cases from four states. In short, SCOTUS is trying to decide two issues: whether or not the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriage; and whether or not same-sex marriages in one state must be recognized by all states.

Conservative Christians have made their feelings clear. Among the hundreds of friend-of-the-court letters are one from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and one from Governor Mike Huckabee’s advocacy group.

At the Christian Post this morning, we see nervous worries about the possible fall-out for conservative Christian schools. Justice Samuel Alito made an explicit reference to the precedent on every conservative’s mind: the Bob Jones University case. Back in 1970, the leaders of BJU refused to allow racial integration on their South Carolina campus. As a result, the Internal Revenue Service took away BJU’s tax-exempt status. By 1983, BJU had taken its case all the way to the Supreme Court. It lost.

Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli if the precedent would apply:

JUSTICE ALITO:  Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating.  So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­ sex marriage?

GENERAL VERRILLI:  You know, I ­­ I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. ­ I don’t deny that.  I don’t deny that, Justice Alito.  It is ­­ it is going to be an issue.

Conservatives worry that this might mean the end of religious schools and colleges. Should religious schools refuse to provide housing for same-sex married couples, the federal government could revoke their tax-exempt status. For most schools, that would mean a sudden and impossibly steep tax bill. When schools are already teetering on the brink of financial insolvency, it could certainly mean the end.

But that’s not all. If history is any guide, Christian school leaders should also prepare for another kind of crisis. Back in the 1970s, fundamentalist schools endured a vicious and destructive split over Bob Jones University’s position on racial segregation.

As I’ve been finding in the archives this past year, even schools that agreed with BJU’s fundamentalist theology sometimes disagreed with BJU’s position against interracial marriage. At the Moody Bible Institute, for example, leaders decided to cancel an invitation to pro-BJU fundamentalist leader John R. Rice. The decision subjected MBI’s leaders to withering criticism from fundamentalists nationwide.

Reporters and observers have noted that SCOTUS’s decision in this case might raise questions for leaders of conservative religious schools. Those leaders should also consider another likely outcome. If SCOTUS’s decision puts pressure on school leaders to recognize same-sex marriages, it might lead to another in a long line of bitter fights among schools.

Will conservative evangelicals and Catholics submit to the law of the land? Or will they resist, citing a higher authority? Will conservative schools lose their conservative credibility if they give in to the new cultural ethos?

It’s not going to be an easy choice. If I were the president of a conservative Christian school or college, I’d get myself ready for a lose-lose decision. Do I want my school to be labeled a bunch of fanatical bigots? Or would I prefer to join the ranks of schools that don’t take their religions very seriously?

Bizarre Attacks on Conservatives

Watch out! Conservative ideas might subject you and your family to thuggish home invasions. Even more creepy, conservative ideas might get you erased from your own personal history. As we observe American conservatism from the outside here at ILYBYGTH, we’ve noticed the steady stream of conservative complaints about persecution. Today’s crop of victim alerts, though, rises to a new level of weirdness.

As one sophisticated and good-looking regular reader of I Love You but You’re Going to Hell (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) noted recently, conservatives are not the only ones to emphasize their own status as victims. Patrick asked,

Who doesn’t emphasize their own victimhood these days? Perhaps the question should be why doing so has become an American tradition. One way of looking at it is to point out that we are an optimistic bunch, perpetually hopeful that if we consistently expose unfairness and hypocrisy, we will help solve the problem by raising awareness of it. Why else would the news always be so depressing?

It makes intuitive sense that every side in our tumultuous culture wars would complain loudly about their own suffering. It is the same dynamic as any family squabble. Victims get justice. Aggressors get punished, at least in theory.

Bubbling up from the conservative commentariat this morning we find two new claims to victimhood. In Wisconsin, we hear, conservative activists have been subjected to jackbooted attacks. And one high school has taken steps to erase its memory of one of its conservative graduates.

First, to Wisconsin: David French’s exposé of hardball culture-war politics tells the story of mild-mannered conservative families subjected to brutal attack. In the aftermath of Wisconsin’s Act 10, conservatives have been targeted as part of a concerted campaign to embarrass and humiliate them. In short, according to French, Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm pushed a “John Doe” investigation of Wisconsin conservatives.

In this kind of investigation, proceedings are kept secret. Investigators have wide latitude to seize relevant documents. As a result, conservative activists had their homes invaded by terrifying police agents. Doors were pounded on. Floors were stomped on. Children were shaken out of bed. Neighbors gathered and gaped. Conservatives were threatened. Computers and phones were seized. Dogs barked.

As French put it, “For select conservative families across five counties, this was the terrifying moment — the moment they felt at the mercy of a truly malevolent state.”

These raids turned at least one Wisconsin conservative into an outlaw, in her imagination at least. As she explains,

I used to support the police, to believe they were here to protect us. Now, when I see an officer, I’ll cross the street. I’m afraid of them. I know what they’re capable of.

Yikes.

Conservatives targeted for home invasions precisely because of their conservative activism. Police used as intimidation agents, to harass and intimidate political activists. All bluster aside, these are profoundly disturbing charges.

Even more bizarre, though, is the story coming from a Baltimore high school. Ryan T. Anderson, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, was first lauded, then removed, from his high school’s Facebook page.

Anderson had been the subject of a front-page story in the Washington Post. The article called Anderson a “fresh voice” for traditional marriage.

At first, according to a story in the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, Anderson’s high school posted news of this alumni success on its Facebook page. Later, the school took down the post. Why? In the words of school head Matt Micciche,

I can understand why the belief that Mr. Anderson’s views were being endorsed by the school would be deeply troubling to some members of our community. The nature of these views goes beyond the realm of abstract political ideology and calls into question the fitness of same-sex families to raise children and the right of gay and lesbian citizens to marry the person they love. While Mr. Anderson undoubtedly has the right to express such views, by posting this article we created legitimate confusion as to whether or not they were being validated by the school.

Maybe it is less scary to be removed from Facebook than to have one’s house broken into by aggressive police, but the implications of this Baltimore story are, IMHO, more sinister.

We're proud of our alumni!  Oh, wait...no.

We’re proud of our alumni! Oh, wait…no.

By removing notice of the significant conservative accomplishments of Anderson, his alma mater, in effect, suggested that conservatism is somehow shady, illegitimate, disreputable . . . even shameful.

I don’t say this as an endorsement of Anderson’s ideas. Nor do I claim to understand the intricacies of Wisconsin’s culture-war politics. For those of us trying to understand conservatism and the culture wars, though, both these stories raise important questions:

  • Is it legitimate to oppose same-sex marriage?
  • Do conservatives have a claim to victimhood?
  • Do these strange stories offer proof that conservative thinkers and activists have been uniquely and unfairly persecuted?

Kicking Christians Out of College

Does being an evangelical Christian automatically make one an anti-gay bigot? If so, can tolerant universities still allow such groups among their students? Those are the tricky questions highlighted in a recent New York Times article about evangelical culture and higher education. As the NYT story noted, this clash between pluralist campuses and “exclusivist” religious groups seems like a tough nut to crack.

But is it fair to assume that all evangelical students are bigots? That opposition to gay marriage pushes students beyond the bounds of polite society? To put it in the most provocative terms: Are evangelical student clubs being ousted because they are seen—sometimes unfairly—as being anti-gay?

The story opens with an update from Bowdoin College in Maine. At that elite liberal-arts school, the tiny evangelical student club has been cut off from official university support. Why? Because, like many evangelical student groups, the Bowdoin group insisted that leaders must be Christians themselves. This led to what the NYT article called a “collision between religious freedom and antidiscrimination policies.” At Bowdoin, as at many other schools, leadership at university-sponsored clubs must be open to all students, regardless of race, religion, or sexual identity.

The official question in the Bowdoin case is not about homosexuality or same-sex marriage. But it would be easy for a casual reader to miss that. The article mentions other schools in which evangelical students have gotten into trouble for anti-gay activity. At Vanderbilt, for instance, one Christian fraternity kicked out a gay member. Indeed, it was precisely that anti-gay activism that led Vanderbilt to force student groups to sign antidiscrimination pledges.

But Bowdoin’s student group does not seem particularly fervent about issues of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. At least according the article, the evangelical club at Bowdoin does not have a single party line about the morality of gay marriage. It’s hard to see a group as anti-same-sex marriage if some of its members support same-sex marriage.

Some studies have suggested that the faculty leaders at universities tilt decidedly against evangelical students. One 2007 study of university faculty concluded that evangelicals were “the only religious group about which a majority of non-Evangelical faculty have negative feelings.” And, as Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund found, faculty at elite schools often have a very skewed notion of evangelical belief. It does not seem like a stretch to think that these faculty prejudices might tip university policy.

For their part, evangelical intellectuals have struggled long and hard to prove that their opposition to gay marriage and, in some cases, to homosexual sex does not make them bigots. Perhaps the most vocal pundit on the issue, Ryan T. Anderson, insisted that conservatives had legitimate reasons for opposing gay marriage. But too often the other side wouldn’t listen. “Marriage re-definers,” Anderson complained in 2013,

don’t tend to say what many opponents have said, that this is a difficult question on which reasonable people of goodwill can disagree. No, they’ve said anyone who disagrees with them is the equivalent of a racist. They’ve sent a clear message: If you stand up for marriage, we will, with the help of our friends in the media, demonize and marginalize you.

Don’t get me wrong: I am personally fervently in support of same sex marriage rights. I’m opposed to locking anyone out of access to influence because of their sexual identity, religion, race, or other causes. But it seems as if universities would do well to uncouple these issues of club leadership, religious belief, and homosexual rights.

Could a student club demand religious beliefs of its leaders, while still welcoming gay and lesbian students to become leaders? Is it fair for universities to assume that evangelical belief automatically implies anti-homosexual attitudes?

 

 

Persecution, Mozilla, and Gay Rights

Who is the bully? Who is the victim? Is it former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich? Or is it the many LGBT people who might not have equal marriage rights?

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard the story by now. Co-founder and former Chief Technology Officer of Mozilla Brendan Eich recently resigned from his new job as Chief Executive Officer. Why? In 2008, he donated $1000 to support California’s Proposition 8. The Proposition would have banned same-sex marriage. His donation caused such a backlash against Mozilla that Eich resigned.

Throughout the furor, Eich made conciliatory noises about the values of diversity and tolerance, but he did not abjure his political beliefs against gay marriage. For many in the tech community, such beliefs are tantamount to bigotry and politicized hatred. To be against gay marriage, for many folks (full disclosure: I include myself in this group), implies a willingness to deny equal legal rights to a category of people. This is the very definition of bigotry. Such a position, pro-gay-marriage activists insist, is akin to denying people the right to marry across the race line.

In short, by opposing gay marriage, Eich defined himself as a bully and a bigot. To oppose gay marriage, many felt, puts Eich and his ilk beyond the pale of civil society.

In the conservative intellectual community, of course, the shoe is on the other foot. Conservatives insist that the bullying is being done by the pro-gay-marriage crowd. How is it “tolerant,” conservatives ask, when successful business leaders are forced to step down strictly because of their political beliefs? The bigots here, conservatives argue, are those who won’t allow a true intellectual or political diversity. The real bullies, conservatives say, are those who won’t allow for any disagreement with their worldview.

As usual, one of the most perspicacious articulations of these positions came recently from Princeton’s Robert George. In the pages of First Thoughts, George argued the case that the victims here were religious folks. Anti-Eich-ism, George asserts, threatens to squeeze religious folks out of the public sphere entirely. As Professor George puts it,

Now that the bullies have Eich’s head as a trophy on their wall, they will put the heat on every other corporation and major employer. They will pressure them to refuse employment to those who decline to conform their views to the new orthodoxy. And you can also bet that it won’t end with same-sex marriage. Next, it will be support for the pro-life cause that will be treated as moral turpitude in the same way that support for marriage is treated. Do you believe in protecting unborn babies from being slain in the womb? Why, then: “You are a misogynist. You are a hater of women. You are a bigot. We can’t have a person like you working for our company.” And there will be other political and moral issues, too, that will be treated as litmus tests for eligibility for employment. The defenestration of Eich by people at Mozilla for dissenting from the new orthodoxy on marriage is just the beginning.

Are conservatives the victims here? Is it legitimate political activism to oppose same-sex marriage? Or is it bigotry and intolerance?

 

Who’s the Victim Here?

Is Craig James a bigot?  Or a victim of religious persecution?  Or both?

Can we liberals allow discrimination against bigots?  Or must we fight against discrimination in all its forms?

James has been in the news lately.  He was fired from his job as a Fox News sportscaster.  The reason?  In his run for the US Senate in 2012, James insisted that he would not support same-sex marriage.  Such marriages, James explained, were against his religion.

The Family Research Council, an organization of conservative religious activists, called the firing an example of religious persecution.  “What Fox Sports did,” the FRC warned,

is much worse than censorship. What Fox Sports is doing is demanding conformity on issues that aren’t even relevant to James’s job — then threatening his livelihood when he refuses. That’s not your garden variety viewpoint discrimination; it’s ideological terrorism. And it has to stop.

From the other side of the issue, the Texas Freedom Network defended the firing.  Intelligent people of goodwill can disagree, the TFN argued, if this is a case of religious discrimination.  But whatever we call it, the TFN blogged, it tells us something about the changing cultural climate.  “it’s worth considering,” the TFN pointed out,

that Fox Sports didn’t fire James because of his religious beliefs. They fired him because they thought his intolerant public statements about gay people would hurt their company.

I generally agree with the folks at the TFN.  However, this seems to me to be a very sketchy argument.  Would we defend a restaurant owner who refused service to ethnic minorities because he or she worried having them in the restaurant would hurt business?