WASHINGTON, June 30, 2014 – The idea of freedom of religion, enshrined in the First Amendment, is now under serious attack on college campuses by political correctness
At Bowdoin College in Maine, the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship, which has existed for 40 years, will no longer be recognized by the college.
According to The New York Times, “…the college has disabled the electronic key cards of the group’s longtime volunteer advisers.”
The reason, the Times reports, “…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.”
Universities have moved to regulate religious groups as a result of a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that found it was constitutional for a public law school in California to deny recognition to a Christian group that excluded gays.
At Cal State, the nation’s largest university system with nearly 450,000 students on 23 campuses, the chancellor is preparing to withdraw official recognition from evangelical groups that will not pledge not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the selection of their leaders.
At Vanderbilt University, more than a dozen groups have already lost their standing over the same issue.
One Christian group objected to a university demand that it eliminate the words “personal commitment to Jesus Christ” from their list of qualifications for leadership.
“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, who just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.
Alec Hill, president of InterVarsity, a national association of evangelical student groups, declares: “It’s absurd. The genius of American culture is that we allow voluntary, self-identified organizations to form, and that’s what our student groups are.”
Some institutions, including the University of Florida, the University of Houston, and the University of Texas have exempted religious groups from nondiscrimination policies. But evangelical groups have lost official status at Tufts University, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Rollins College in Florida, among others.
Austin Weatherby, a student at Cal State Chico, who sometimes leads Bible study sessions, says,
“We’re not willing to water down our beliefs in order to be accepted.” He said he had to agree that he believes in the Holy Trinity and the Resurrection to lead these sessions. “Anyone can join but if you want to lead a Bible study, you need to believe these things.”
Ironically, many university officials around the country repeatedly proclaim their allegiance to “diversity” on their campuses. They argue in its behalf when defending race-based affirmative action policies. When it comes to religious diversity, however, more and more universities are arguing in the negative.
Under rules which have been imposed on some campuses, it is no longer possible for a Catholic group to mandate that its leaders be Catholic, or that a Muslim group confine its membership to Muslims. The religious freedom which is honored in our larger society is viewed with contempt on many campuses.
There is, in fact, less diversity of opinion on our college and university campuses than in almost any other sector of our society. Political correctness, it seems, is replacing freedom of speech. This point was made in this year’s commencement address at Harvard University by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In his talk, Bloomberg criticized an academic culture that he described as increasingly intolerant of ideas from outside a narrow liberal spectrum. Citing the campus protests that caused former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde to back out on planned commencement addresses, Bloomberg criticized students and faculty for being hostile to ideas that clashed with their own ideologies.
Comparing the atmosphere in academia today to that which prevailed during Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s campaign to remove Communists from public life, Bloomberg stated: “In the 1950s, the right-wing was attempting to repress left-wing ideas. Today, on many college campuses, it is liberals trying to repress conservative ideas as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming an endangered species. A university’s obligation is not to teach students what to think but to teach students how to think. That requires listening to the other side, weighing arguments without prejudice.”
At Harvard and elsewhere, said Bloomberg, “There is an idea floating around …that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism…Requiring scholars, and commencement speakers, for that matter, to conform to certain political standards undermines the whole purpose of a university.”
Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, points out that,
“Universities claim they are committed to creating a student body that looks like America. In fact, they deliberately ignore the most important diversity of all, thought. About half the country is fairly conservative. Yet by any measure, faculty profiles, campus speakers, student organizations, colleges discriminate against those not deemed sufficiently liberal.”
The attack on religious freedom in the name of political correctness is an example of the narrow mindset to be found in some parts of the current academic world. According to the Pew Research Center, thousands of Christians in more than 100 countries were subject to some form of persecution in 2012, the most recent year for which data were available.
Perhaps the report for 2014 will report on efforts to remove Christian groups from campuses such as Bowdoin, Vanderbilt, Tufts and Cal State.
Academic freedom, it seems, is, in many places, only for those ideas the contemporary academy deems politically correct. Which means, of course, that the very notion of academic freedom is, on many campuses, now a thing of the past. What lesson does that teach to students who, after all, will be the citizens of the future?