Hope for Campus Christians?

If the decision at Duke left evangelical Christians bummed, this one from Iowa might lift their culture-war spirits. Not only did the Obama-appointed federal judge rule on the side of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, but she threatened to hit the offending college administrators where it hurts. And she included the Hawkapellas.

hawkapellas Iowa

I’m guessing the Hawkapellas didn’t think they’d be part of this culture-war battle…

Here’s what we know: According to Inside Higher Ed, federal judge Stephanie Rose issued her second ruling against the University of Iowa. Back in January, she ruled that the university could not fairly de-recognize Business Leaders in Christ. Now, she ruled not only that the university unfairly de-recognized Intervarsity, but that the university leaders should have known better. She intimated that specific administrators might be personally financially liable.

This ruling might change the climate of these campus de-recognition battles in two big ways. First of all, Judge Rose explicitly agreed that Christian groups can’t be singled out for their discriminatory policies. In Iowa, at least, plenty of other groups discriminate yet were allowed to remain on campus.

She lists several student organizations. The all-female Hawkapella singing club, for example, restricts its membership to women. The Tau Sigma Military Dental Club is only open to military-sponsored students. The Iowa National Lawyer’s Guild “excludes individuals because of their political views, even though such an exclusion constitutes discrimination on the basis of creed.”

As the judge ruled,

The University purports to apply the Human Rights Policy to RSOs [Registered Student Organizations] such that they may not speak about religion, gender, homosexuality, creed, and numerous other protected characteristics through their membership and leadership criteria. But whereas InterVarsity may not require or even encourage its leaders to subscribe to its faith, other RSOs are free to limit membership and leadership based on the Human Rights Policy’s protected characteristics.

How can a university allow the Hawkapellas without including the Intervarsities? How can it recognize some groups that discriminate in their membership and leadership policies and not others? Judge Rose thinks they can’t. At least, not legally.

Perhaps most important, Judge Rose ruled that specific university administrators could be subject to financial damages. I can’t help but think that that provision will make cautious administrators at other schools sit up and take notice.

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Stop the Hostage Crisis in Campus Culture Wars

It can be difficult to know what to do on America’s college campuses. Recent cases from Baylor and Duke lead to some difficult questions: Do conservative Christian colleges have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ students? Do liberal schools have a right to discriminate against conservative Christian ones? In all these culture-war tiffs, one fact tends to get lost. Namely, students should not be the ones paying the price for culture-war hostilities.

Houston chronicle Rice LGBTQ

Even if we agree with them, should we be making students fight our battles?

First, a little background: At the recent Rice/Baylor football game, Rice’s band put on a gay-stravaganza to protest Baylor’s anti-LGBTQ student policies. Baylor had recently refused to recognize a campus LGBTQ student group.

Meanwhile, Duke’s student government voted to de-recognize Young Life, an evangelical Christian group. Why? Because Young Life will not allow LGBTQ students to be leaders or volunteers.

We can agree or disagree with the pro- or anti-LGBTQ policies at play. Me, I side with the LGBTQ students—I support efforts to eliminate anti-LGBTQ discrimination. But it’s not really as cut-and-dried a debate as some of my progressive friends seem to think. For example, I also think religious colleges should be free to set policies that accord with their religious views. And I think religious students should have maximum freedom to do the same, wherever they go to college.

While we try to figure out a way to square this circle—a way to allow religious students to express their religion without hurting the right of LGBTQ students to feel included and welcomed—why don’t we consider a tweak of our campus culture-war playbook? Consider a plea for something that should be obvious but seems to get lost in the shuffle?

Here it is: When colleges fight about these issues, why don’t we all agree to keep students out of the firing line? Why don’t we agree to give students maximum ability to experiment with different ideas and identities, instead of punishing them for advocating ideas that are near and dear to them?

Here’s what it could look like in practice: Instead of focusing on kicking off this student group or that student group, ALL student groups could be required to have a faculty advisor. The advisor could represent the student-group’s interests with the school administration. In principle, ALL student groups would be recognized, even if the school did not endorse their ideologies or theologies. It would take a lot to have a student-group de-recognized. The faculty senate—or whatever body represented faculty interests—would have to be agree that the group represented a harm to the university community, not just a disagreement with prevailing policy.

In this set-up, Duke’s student government could not simply vote out a Christian group it didn’t like. Baylor’s administration would be prodded to allow LGBTQ students to organize. It wouldn’t stop the arguments about student groups, but it would make it less likely for students to be penalized for caring about the world around them. It would turn faculty members and administrators into the ones doing the fighting and make it less likely for students to be directly embroiled in bruising culture-war battles.

It would encourage—not discourage—smart, engaged students to get together to make their school and world a better place. And isn’t that what college is supposed to do?