Worlds Apart: The Attack on Religious Freedom

February 28, 2019 Updated: March 3, 2019

Commentary

It’s not only small towns and small businesses that are threatened and ruined by LGBT activists determined to punish Christians even to the point of ruining their businesses, driving them out of careers and professions. The attack on Christians is pervasive, not just episodic, on American university campuses. And it is not just antifa or student activists of the far left who are shutting down free speech, free association, and the free exercise of religion there.

The anti-Christian discrimination arises not only from malice, I will argue, but also from the blank incomprehension of elites in the face of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Neither the media nor the cultural elites whose voice they represent “get religion,” to use the name of a useful website that covers ways the media misunderstand and misrepresent religion.

University administrators of both public and private universities and colleges go to great lengths to impose conformity to the new official orthodoxy of secular and sexual liberalism as they blatantly discriminate against religious student groups, usually Christian ones. They impose conformity in the name of diversity, discriminating against disfavored groups in the name of nondiscrimination.

An extreme, but not unique, case of this tendency is the determined attempt of the University of Iowa to “de-recognize” a small Christian student group, Business Leaders in Christ, because it screens its leaders to make sure they agree with and can represent the group’s religious beliefs. These include a standard statement of faith that professes that sexual activity is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman, an orthodox Christian belief since the faith’s founding two millennia ago.

“In other words,” as journalist David French put it in the National Review, “a traditional Christian group wants to be led by people of traditional Christian faith.”

The university’s position was that a student group could not discriminate against a member seeking to lead it just because he held a different view of sexual activity from the group’s and was seeking to practice his beliefs through his own relationships and activity.

Federal District Court Judge Stephanie Rose (appointed by Barack Obama) recently rejected the university’s position and granted the Christian group a permanent injunction against its enforcement, not because she objected to the university’s human rights policy, but because the university selectively enforced it on the basis of the group’s views.

As she said in the court’s ruling: “The University has approved the constitutions of numerous organizations that explicitly limit access to leadership or membership based on religious views, race, sex, and other characteristics protected by the Human Rights Policy. These groups include Love Works, which requires leaders to sign a ‘gay-affirming statement of Christian faith’; … House of Lorde, which implements membership ‘interview[s]’ to maintain ‘a space for Black Queer individuals and/or the support thereof’; [and] the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which limits membership to ‘enrolled Chinese Students and Scholars.’ “

Note that the favored groups included one that required leaders to sign a “gay-affirming statement of Christian faith.” So the university takes on the role of determining what kind of Christianity it will tolerate—of course, it is the kind furthest from the faith’s history and tradition, and most in line with the prevailing secular-liberal orthodoxy.

The authorities of this public university do not stand above religious diversity, but like former President Obama telling the world what true Islam is, they favor only versions of Christianity that conform to their own view. In other words, they suppress religious diversity and determine what kind of Christianity they will tolerate in a student group.

As French put it, “That is textbook viewpoint discrimination, and it’s blatantly unconstitutional.”

Media Silence

The extent of anti-Christian bias on campuses, and the efforts of administrators to defund or drive off campus the “wrong kind,” is extraordinary. The cases are largely ignored by the media, but greatly outnumber those involving small businesses—the florists, photographers, and bakers such as Masterpiece Cakeshopthat the media do cover, if often in a biased way.

According to French, the Alliance Defending Freedom, his former employer, has intervened legally in more than 200 cases on campus, and other religious liberty legal groups have their own substantial case files.

Media coverage (or the lack of it) reflects as well as reinforces the common liberal assumption that there is no anti-religious discrimination on campuses. It’s the elite view that dominates society, in higher education (where professors and administrators are overwhelmingly liberal and secular), law, entertainment, big business, and sport. 

It’s a view that sees itself as standing above religious orthodoxy of any kind, as neutral with regard to fundamental issues. But it’s far from neutral and doesn’t seek accommodation with traditional views in a tolerant, pluralist society.

As Robert P. George showed in his book, “The Clash of Orthodoxies,” we don’t face a collision between a neutral secular-liberal state and theocratic traditionalists who seek to impose their religious views. Rather there are two rival orthodoxies, that of the Judeo-Christian ethical tradition and that of the liberal secularists (and their supporters in some progressive religious groups). The liberals, whose orthodoxy dominates the ruling elites in all areas of society, are determined to repress dissenters, “punish the wicked” (i.e., Christians), and drive them from the public square.

Incomprehension

Such an ideological climate, reinforced by the fear of public shaming and lawsuits, drives the behavior of university administrators and intimidates faculty and students with nonconforming views into a kind of self-censorship.

Even social work, a profession founded by Christians seeking to practice their faith by helping the most vulnerable, has become a hostile environment for many Christians. Christian social work students, seeing the fate of those expelled from their program, keep their heads down in order to graduate and practice in the field they feel called to as Christians.

Many who hold the socially liberal views expected in polite society find the alternative of Judeo-Christian orthodox simply incomprehensible. This was evident even among liberals on the Supreme Court, who, in redefining the institution of marriage, didn’t address the rational case for marriage, one that didn’t depend on the revealed truth of religion, even though it was presented to them. They simply assumed there was no such rational case, that the traditional view was biased and irrational, and that the view that was accepted always and everywhere for the past 5,000 years—including in societies where homosexual relations were honored—was motivated by homophobia.

The new orthodoxy not only rejects religious teachings as false or meaningless. It also reduces religion itself to a personal idiosyncrasy or hobby. It is no wonder, then, that it makes light of the right of people of faith not to be coerced into doing what they believe in conscience is wrong. In short, it looks on the claims of faith with blank incomprehension.  

Paul Adams is a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawai‘i and was a professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Case Western Reserve University. He is the co-author of “Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is” and has written extensively on social welfare policy and professional and virtue ethics.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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