The American Philosophical Association describes itself as “the main professional organization for philosophers in the United States.” Among other things, it produces “Jobs for Philosophers,” an on-line and print publication through which academic institutions seek applicants for open faculty positions. The APA conditions use of “Jobs for Philosophers” upon compliance with a rule banning discrimination on the basis of religion and “sexual orientation,” among other things. The rule essentially exempts religious colleges and universities from the ban on religious discrimination.
Early last year, a group of academic philosophers petitioned the APA to enforce its ban on “sexual orientation” discrimination and to inform “Jobs for Philosophers” readers which institutions they believe violate that ban. The petition asserts that some schools “require faculty, students, and staff to follow certain ‘ethical’ standards which prohibit engaging in homosexual acts.” Among such schools, according to the petition, are Azusa Pacific University, Belmont University, Bethel University, Biola University, Calvin College, Malone College, Pepperdine University, Westmont College, and Wheaton College. As of January 12, 2010, 1471 individuals had electronically signed the petition.
This petition prompted a counter-petition signed by a number of notable philosophers, including Alasdair McIntyre, Alvin Plantinga, Germain Grisez, Robert P. George, John M. Finnis, Roger Scruton, and many others. The counter-petition urges the APA to continue allowing institutions with policies reflecting traditional sexual morality to advertise in “Jobs for Philosophers.” Among other things, the counter-petition argued that there is a conceptual distinction between “orientation” and “conduct,” and that institutions should be allowed to consider conduct in their personnel policies. Many who signed the counter-petition also sent a thoughtful letter to the APA Board of Officers.
A November 23, 2009, Insider Higher Ed article reported that the APA had a adopted a new procedure that will “flag” ads from employers that are deemed discriminatory. The APA also concluded that institutional policies that disapprove of same-sex sexual conduct violate its rule against “sexual orientation” discrimination.
It is unlikely that the APA has violated the legally protected rights of Christ-centered educational institutions with sexual morality policies. Nonetheless, the original petition and the APA’s recent action reflect the relentless effort to marginalize and stigmatize faith-based institutions that maintain conduct standards rooted in traditional sexual ethics. That effort has had and inevitably will have adverse manifestations in statutes, rules, and judicial decisions. The APA’s action also contradicts a key argument that religious institutions can make when charged with “sexual orientation” discrimination: that their policies are about conduct rather than orientation. Of course, just because the APA embraced such an interpretation of the word “orientation” does not necessarily mean that legislatures, administrative agencies, and courts will do likewise.