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Evangelicals, colleges at odds over anti-discrimination policies

Evangelicals, colleges at odds over anti-discrimination policies

Here is a trend likely to divide Cafe readership between those who believe that religious organization on U. S. campuses should have to play by the same rules as every other organization, and those who believe that religious organizations should be open only to those who uphold, or perhaps at least respect, the tenets of the religion in question.

Michael Paulson of The New York Times writes:

After this summer, the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship will no longer be recognized by the college. Already, the college has disabled the electronic key cards of the group’s longtime volunteer advisers.

In a collision between religious freedom and anti-discrimination policies, the student group, and its advisers, have refused to agree to the college’s demand that any student, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, should be able to run for election as a leader of any group, including the Christian association.

Similar conflicts are playing out on a handful of campuses around the country, driven by the universities’ desire to rid their campuses of bias, particularly against gay men and lesbians, but also, in the eyes of evangelicals, fueled by a discomfort in academia with conservative forms of Christianity. The universities have been emboldened to regulate religious groups by a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that found it was constitutional for a public law school in California to deny recognition to a Christian student group that excluded gays.

What are your thoughts on this conflict?


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Paul Powers

Bowdoin College has issued a statement denying any intention of dropping its recognition of the BCF.

Gregory Orloff

Yes, Chris Harwood. Just like everyone else, evangelical students pay student fees to use student facilities too. And that is precisely why they have to follow the same rules to use those facilities, just like everyone else.

“Evangelical” doesn’t mean “exempt from following rules” by dint of some self-perceived divine right.

In the universities friends and I have either attended or worked for, both religious and non-religious student groups receive funding out of student activity fees, along with use of office and meeting space, plus other campus resources.

But to do so, all of them must follow the same rules.

I have no problem with those who don’t want to (or feel they can’t) follow the rules.

I do have a problem with those who don’t want to (or feel they can’t) follow the rules, yet still feel entitled to the benefits that come from following those rules, and sometimes even have the nerve to cry “persecution” when they don’t get the benefits that come with following rules, because they refuse to follow them.

Genuine freedom is always an option: any group has the freedom to fund itself, support itself, pay for its own resources and rent facilities that allow it to be as exclusionary as it wants to be and feels it must be.

Oh, but genuine freedom demands a commitment and costs money! It requires people to put their money where their mouths and belief systems are.

Well, as some are so fond of parroting nowadays, “freedom isn’t free.”

In the meantime, I see no reason why I ought to be expected to pay for evangelicalism that wants to exclude me, but feels entitled to use my money.

Chris H.

Implicit in allowing someone to run for a leadership position is the idea that they can get that position. Let’s assume Heidi is correct that a) they allow people who don’t agree or share the same beliefs into the group but not into leadership, and b) students can’t just join and expect to become leaders. Why is signing a document and letting them run while knowing they won’t win more honest than just saying “Here are our leadership requirements”? They aren’t banned from the group itself. Are women and blacks satisfied when the law says they’re equal, but then they are sidelined quietly? Is that really honest? We live in a world where a man sued because he didn’t get to lead a breastfeeding mothers group. When did common sense become discrimination?

Evangelical students pay the fees to use the facilities too. Perhaps your universities were different, but religious groups didn’t receive student fees at mine. Registered groups got the right to advertise, to rent an office if they could afford it, and to use meeting rooms unless an outside group wanted to rent the space, then they were moved so the college could collect the higher rent.

Chris Harwood

Bill Ghrist

Chris H., I don’t see how you conclude that the Catholic and Muslim groups lied. The rule requires that any student may run for election; it does not require that they must be elected. The other commentators have adequately explained the differences between a private organization and one that claims recognition by the University and the right to use its facilities.

Paul Theerman

Chris H.: Isn’t the most direct answer to your question just this: Colleges and universities (of the type discussed here, anyway) are secular institutions, with rules making their officially sponsored organizations open to all affiliates. Churches are religious institutons with set doctrines to be upheld and belief requirements for membership. It’s apples and oranges.

And re the other campus religious institutions: there is a difference between believing in a position, and not discriminating against those who don’t share your belief. If it gets too difficult to exist on campus, well, pretty much every spot of land in the U.S. is part of (or could be made part of, if need be) a catholic parish. One could close up shop if staying is felt to be too much of a compromise. I hope it wouldn’t come to that, though.

The mission is sharing the gospel in an unwelcoming world. It is indeed a challenge, and shouldn’t be thought to be easy!

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