Archive for February, 2010

Canadian Christ-Centered Universities Under Attack

February 28, 2010

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has wrongly declared that Trinity Western University (TWU) violates academic freedom because of its Christ-centered character.

CAUT bases its conclusion upon two facts.  First, TWU draws its faculty and staff from among those who voluntarily embrace its Statement of Faith.

Second, TWU “rejects as incompatible with human nature and revelational theism a definition of academic freedom which arbitrarily and exclusively requires pluralism without commitment, denies the existence of any fixed points of reference, maximizes the quest for truth to the extent of assuming it is never knowable, and implies an absolute freedom from moral and religious responsibility to its community.”  Accordingly, TWU “is committed to academic freedom in teaching and investigation from a stated perspective, i.e., within parameters consistent with the confessional basis of the constituency to which the University is responsible, but practised in an environment of free inquiry and discussion and of encouragement to integrity in research.”

CAUT has put TWU on a list of schools it says do not respect academic freedom and is investigating other Christ-centered universities in Canada, including Crandall University and Canadian Mennonite University.

CAUT acknowledges that TWU is a legitimate institution of higher education with qualified scholars.  It nonetheless has essentially deemed Christ-centered higher education to be pedagogically illegitimate.  This is a remarkable departure from precedent.  Many similar institutions have operated in the United States and Canada for many years with their distinctive conception of academic freedom.  The higher education establishment has accommodated and accepted the distinctive nature of such institutions, respecting their legitimate place in the tapesty of North American higher education.

I suspect that simple disagreement with (and probably even animosity towards) TWU’s religious commitments has motivated this unfortunate departure from the respect that the world of higher education has generally afforded Christ-centered higher education.  The notion that God is the source of truth and that He has revealed truth in Scripture is foolish and offensive to most university professors, who believe that the exclusive means for discovering truth is through empirical observation or rational deduction.  A disagreement over epistomology is hardly a reason to deem schools like TWU to be illegitimate. Yet this is precisely what CAUT has done.


Jewish Groups Split on CLS v. Martinez

February 21, 2010

JTA, which describes itself as “The Global News Service of the Jewish People,” has posted an article discussing the divergent choices various Jewish groups have made regarding Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.  As the article explains, some groups have filed “friend of the Court” briefs supporting CLS’s constitutional freedom to draw its officers and voting members from among those who share its religious commitments — both doctrinal and moral.  Others plan to file in support of the government or sit the case out.

The article features several remarkable statements by Deborah Lauter, the National Director of Civil Rights for the Anti-Defamation League.  First, she implicitly characterizes CLS as a group that is “opposed” to non-Christians and those who engage in extramarital sexual conduct.  It is profoundly unfair and misleading to characterize CLS’s statement of faith requirement as “opposition” to those who have different religious commitments.  The statement of faith expresses CLS’s core religious beliefs, positively articulating what brings its members together.  The idea that the founders and leaders of CLS started with some “opposition” to non-Christians and then wrote the statement of faith to express that alleged “opposition” is absurd.

Second, Ms. Lauter suggests that if CLS prevails, public universities will be rendered utterly unable to address actual invidious discrimination.  I continue to find it amusing that opponents of CLS’s position, finding themselves unable to mount a persuasive case against CLS itself, must resort to parades of hypothetical horribles.  Her remark reflects a conflation of real discrimination (invidiously taking irrelevant characteristics into account) and the means by which a bona fide religious group legitimately maintains its religious character over time.

Third, Ms. Lauter said that it is “antithetical to democracy” to allow religious groups that consider religion in their hiring decisions to participate in federally funded social service programs.  “Democracy” produced the 1996 welfare reform law, which acknowledged the right of such religious groups to participate in the provision of services to needy people with public money.  Large numbers of both Democrats and Republicans voted for this legislation, and a Democratic president (Bill Clinton) signed it.  Can one plausibly call their handiwork “antithetical to democracy”?  It appears as though “antithetical to democracy” means “stuff ADL doesn’t like.”

Hastings states that no group can deny voting membership and leadership to any student on any basis (not just on the basis of characteristics listed in Hastings’ Policy on Nondiscrimination, like race and religion).  Under such a policy, a student chapter of ADL would not be able to withhold voting membership or an officer position from an avowed anti-Semite.  Does ADL really believe that Hastings would not violate ADL’s constitutional rights by revoking its registered status under such circumstances?  Perhaps ADL is confident that Hastings would selectively enforce such a policy by, say, withholding registered student organization status from CLS while conferring such status on it.  That might not be an unreasonable assumption:  in 2004, Hastings conferred RSO status upon La Raza (“the race”) even though its bylaws expressly limited membership and leadership to those “of Raza background.”


February 19, 2010

Video: David French 2010 SFLA Conference: Knowing Your Rights on Campus

Click to watch: 2010 SFLA Conference: Knowing Your Rights on Campus

David French spoke at the 2010 Students for Life National Conference on January 23, 2010, in Washington, D.C. With a touch of humor and motivational thought,  he inspired more than 1,000 pro-life students to Speak Up for Life on their public university campus. He encouraged them with the knowledge that when they Speak Up and Stand Up, they are not alone. Behind them stands the strength of an Alliance.

The Evidence Just Keeps On Coming

February 19, 2010

On this blog, our website, and elsewhere, we have written frequently of the ideological atmosphere on campus, one that is far removed from the “marketplace of ideas” ideal.  From professors who dislike Evangelical Christians, to professors who try to indoctrinate students, to an incredibly hedonistic and increasingly leftist culture, the campus atmosphere is particularly noxious to Christian and conservative ideas.  Nevertheless, the skeptics continue to doubt.

Well, the evidence continues to roll in, this time from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s recent study entitled The Shaping of the American Mind.  The first major conclusion from this study is hardly surprising:

American colleges generally fail to significantly increase civic knowledge among their students, but they do influence student opinion on a narrow set of polarizing social issues.

When quizzed on basic civics, college graduates only answered four more questions correctly than high school graduates.  But a college education does make a person more likely to favor same-sex “marriage,” more likely to support abortion on demand, less likely to believe that people can succeed through hard work, less likely to favor school prayer, and less likely to believe the Bible is God’s Word. 

And this shift does not just occur among students.  If a person has taught at the college level, he is more likely to think that America corrupts otherwise good people, that the Ten Commandments are irrelevant today, and that homeschooling is bad than someone who has not.

In short, on far too many campuses today, education is out, and indoctrination is in.  In an environment that fosters a leftward creep among students and faculty, it is vitally important that Christian students and professors remain free to advocate their viewpoints openly and willing to do so boldly.

CLS v. Martinez: A Debate at SMU Law

February 18, 2010

CLS v. Martinez Debate - ADF Attorney Greg Baylor, Professor Maureen Armour , Professor Linda Eads

Earlier this week, I participated in a debate regarding Christian Legal Society v. Martinez at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law in Dallas.  I argued that the U.S. Supreme Court should rule that Hastings College of the Law violated the Constitution when it refused to recognize its CLS chapter because the chapter draws its officers and voting members from among those who share its religious commitments.  SMU law professor Linda Eads energetically but graciously advocated a contrary result.

In my prepared remarks, I shared my belief that Hastings’ disagreement with CLS’s counter-cultural positions on religious doctrine and sexual morality was at least in part behind the school’s treatment of the CLS chapter.  Professor Eads essentially agreed with me, but then said something that truly surprised me – that Hastings should have the power to punish a counter-cultural group like CLS in order to promote “the culture it wants to foster.”

As I see it, a private educational institution, such a religious one, does have (and should have) the power to foster a certain kind of culture, free from the restraints the Constitution imposes upon government educational institutions.  But the First Amendment forbids the government from using its power to restrain the expressive activity of a group whose views contradict the government’s simply because of that disagreement.

My experience has been that many public university administrators fail to adequately grasp that the Constitution limits their power – something their  private school counterparts do not experience.  A greater understanding of this reality by America’s public colleges and universities would go a long way towards restoring freedom of speech on those campuses.

A Righteous Stand

February 11, 2010

                I was president of Maranatha Christian Fellowship student group at the University of Minnesota when we teamed up with the Alliance Defense Fund  to successfully challenge the University’s non-discrimination policy that, ironically, discriminated against religious student groups. The policy basically stated that in order to be considered a legitimate student group, we had to sign a form stating that we would allow any student to become voting members and be eligible for leadership positions within the group, regardless of (among other things) their religion.
                Our student group decided to challenge this policy because it undermined the very purpose and goal of our organization. Allowing voting members and leaders into our organization when they do not agree with our Christian core values defeats the purpose of having a Christian student group at all, just as it would defeat the PETA student group’s purpose to allow recreational hunters as voting members of their group!
                The University did not challenge our lawsuit, and the policy was changed so that religious student organizations would no longer be required to sign the non-discrimination statement in order to receive full recognition.
                As Christians, we believe it is important for people of faith to take a stand on these issues, because all across the nation, our religious freedom is being squashed and trampled in the name of “tolerance.” As our nation’s universities lean ever farther to the left,  we are falling victim to discrimination and intolerance. In fact, it seems every belief is to be accepted and tolerated except the beliefs held by most Christians.
                We thank ADF for their tireless work to defend religious freedom, and we pray the Supreme Court will recognize their case as valid, pressing, and justified.

Submitted by Grant Buse

Cloaking Faith in the Academy

February 11, 2010

Skeptics of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom and our efforts to preserve the “marketplace of ideas” often claim that we use exceptions to paint a bleak picture of religious liberty in higher education.  Despite the many students, faculty, staff and organizations that we’ve assisted across the country and our clients’ stories, many people still question whether there is a constitutional crisis on campus.  That’s why I want to point out George Leef’s post over at Phi Beta Cons today, highlighting the story of a master’s student who hid her political (and presumably, religious) beliefs to complete her degree.  Leef quotes the former student’s story: 

You see, I received a master’s degree in historical theology from a liberal institution by hiding my conservatism. (I’m not even a conservative by the contemporary definition; I just know I am not a liberal.) When I wrote my master’s thesis on Augustine’s distinction between auctoritas and potestas in the City of God, certain passages caused my professors to realize they had been harboring a pariah in their midst. My application to a respectable doctoral program was turned down on the grounds that my application materials were “not universally excellent.” It turns out that several of my professors damned me with faint praise in their letters of recommendation, and my application was doomed.

The idea that conservatives do not love history, philosophy, and literature is ridiculous. I spend all my spare time poring over the minutiae of early Christian literature, and I have managed to be published several times. But I know that I am not welcome in academia. I know that I could try again at one of the new “conservative” Catholic institutions that have recently cropped up, but I am too old to drop everything now to pursue a doctorate. So I study, write, and publish when I can, but it’s not the same as being in a setting where the open discussion of ideas is welcomed and even cherished. How I miss a world that does not exist!

This student’s story is all too familiar.  While in law school one of my professors was a Christian, but refused to make that fact known among her peers.  You see, she was untenured and feared that by revealing her true colors she would torpedo her chances of promotion.  As a result of these fears she could not advise the Christian Legal Society chapter on campus and refrained from writing too much on religious legal issues, even though she had a deep interest in the religion clause of the First Amendment.

Why do these and other Christians remain silent in the academy?  One answer is fear.  Many students, faculty and staff (not all) are fearful of even raising their Christian views on campus.  And why would they want to when professors and administrators are telling them that these views are “offensive” and “hateful propaganda“?  The environment they strive to succeed in is consumed by people who hold the most unfavorable feelings toward Evangelical Christians.  To be an outspoken Christian student, faculty or staff member is to guarantee academic or career stagnation and mediocrity.  Until the marketplace of ideas begins to reopen its to competing ideas through people who are willing to protect their right to speak, the climate described by Leef’s reader will be the unfortunate reality of the campus culture.

An Unjust Choice

February 10, 2010

As more and more campuses enforce discriminatory ‘nondiscrimination policies’, campus faith communities like Chi Alpha are forced to make an unjust choice:  either compromise our mission, values, and identity or lose the ability to meaningfully engage in campus life. This Supreme Court case will have lasting repercussions on students’ Constitutional rights.  Generations of university students will be impacted.

Joe Gavin- Chi Alpha Vermont

Chi Alpha National Ministries has been a force for the Gospel on universities throughout the United States and around the world since 1953. Its members are college-age men and women earnestly following Jesus. The name “Chi Alpha” is inspired by II Corinthians 5:20. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” Inspired by this verse, the ministry chose the designation “christou apostoloi,” meaning “Christ’s sent ones,” to represent its membership. The Greek letters Chi (X) and Alpha (A) are the initials of this phrase which should remind us that we should live to accomplish the commission Jesus gave us.

Chi Alpha campus leaders aspire to embody the mission of the organization.  Because of their uncompromising faith, they have dealt with the non-discrimination statement issue on campuses across America over and over again. Most recently at the University of Vermont.

The Vermont Chi Alpha chapter was denied recognition by the Student Government Association (SGA) for the second time last year. The student chairperson denied Chi Alpha recognition because its constitution requires student leaders to be Christians and live according to Biblical ethics. The committee decided that the group was therefore “discriminating” on the basis of religion, a violation of the school’s nondiscrimination policy.

Failure to obtain official recognition constitutes a heavy penalty for this student campus group. Without recognition, the student members are unable to reserve space on campus for their weekly worship gatherings, information tables, or outreach events. They are also denied access to the student activities funds they themselves contribute to each semester.

While Chi Alpha Vermont continues to work toward recognition, it has its eye on the Court.

If your Christian campus group has faced this kind of injustice on campus, tell us about it.

The Latest Example of Echo Chamber Thinking

February 10, 2010

In study after study, university faculty members overwhelmingly lean toward the political and cultural left.  In some departments, Democrats outnumber Republicans by thirty to one.  Over 70% of faculty describe themselves as liberal, in contrast to 18% of the nation as a whole.  And when asked to name the greatest threats to international security, university faculty placed the United States at #2, ahead of Iran.

But why is this?  Well, Jere Surber (a philosophy professor) attempted to answer this question recently Chronicle of Higher Education, and in the process provides the latest shining example of the echo chamber that is modern academia.  The answer in his mind is real simple: 

It is because we liberal-arts professors have a personal stake in our relative economic status; we have carefully studied the actual dynamics of history and culture; and we have trained ourselves to think in complex, nuanced, and productive ways about the human condition that so many of us are liberals. Most of us agree with President Obama that there is a “right side of history,” and we feel morally bound to be on it. Although we’d like to see some parity in compensation with our colleagues, we chose our fields with full awareness of the tradeoff. Part of our compensation lies in knowing that our studies can complement our standing on the “right side,” rather than having our basic commitments dictated to us by the limitations of other, narrower professions.  (emphasis added)

Translation:  “We just know more, think more, and care more.  By the way, you should pay us more. So, we are leftists.” 

The rest of the article merely amplifies this self-righteous theme while providing almost an all star lineup of contradictions, oversights, and straw-men arguments.  For example, after griping about how other professions earn more than professors, Dr. Surber writes:  “We don’t mind the lower pay (well, not that much). . . .”  Well, which is it?  Are faculty members leftist because of an instinctive income-envy?  Or, like the monks of old, does their income reflect their moral superiority? 

While discussing faculty members’ greater understanding of history, Dr. Surber notes with bracing objectivity:  “Conservatives, who tend to evoke the need to preserve traditional connections with the past, have nonetheless contributed least to any detailed or thoughtful study of history.”  Right.  After all, as conservatives try to “preserve traditional connections with the past,” they naturally have to ignore the past altogether.  But then again, when he relies on a definition of history only slightly tinged with the faintest whiff of leftist bias—the drive “of underprivileged or oppressed groups to attain parity with the privileged or the oppressor” (rather than, say, the study of past events)—it is not exactly shocking that only leftists qualify as historians.  But what then do we make of conservative historians and scholars like Paul Johnson, Victor Davis Hanson, Dinesh D’Souza, and F.A. von Hayek, not to mention lightweights like Winston Churchill and Alexander Solzhenitsyn?  Maybe they just did not study enough.     

But no all star team of faculty follies would be complete without the ad hominem straw-man arguments.  When citing examples of successful conservatives, who tops the list?  Dick Cheney, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and (of course) Sarah Palin.  After all, anyone as “open minded” as Dr. Surber realizes that all conservatives are either evil or stupid.  And no one who has his “tremendous” grasp on the nuances of conservativism would even think of luminaries like William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Dinesh D’Souza, or Thomas Sowell, just to name a few.

All in all, Dr. Surber provides an invaluable service by answering such a perplexing question in such an objective, dispassionate fashion.  At last, we know that academia tilts so far left simply because professors earn so little, know so much, and care even more.  Oh, if only we conservatives could be so pure, virtuous, and intelligent.  But then again, if we were, we would be leftists.

Student Fee Flop

February 8, 2010

Free speech violations manifest themselves in many forms on America’s campuses. Perhaps one of the most frequent—and misunderstood violations—concerns the distribution of student activity fees.

In Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia, and Board of Regents of University Wisconsin System v. Southworth, the Supreme Court explained that public universities requiring students to pay student activity fees must ensure that those fees are distributed in a viewpoint-neutral manner. In other words, the university cannot consider a student organization’s mission, goals, or views when allocating the student activity fee funds.

But all too often, universities ignore this constitutional command. Take, for example, the Student Government Board (SGB) at the University of Pittsburgh. The SGB initially denied Students For Life’s request for $1,515 to attend the National Students for Life Conference and the March for Life in Washington D.C. on the grounds that the group was “proselytizing” for its cause. The SGB President’s reasoning was telling:

“The fundamental purpose of this group is to promote an opinion, traditionally that of a religious perspective. Therefore I would disagree with the fundamental existence of the group, and so therefore, it was my opinion that this group is going to proselytize as a lobbying organization.”

Really? And other groups on campus don’t “promote an opinion?” At Pitt, there are thirty-two “Political & Advocacy” student organizations—not including religious groups—that promote a wide array of causes and beliefs and are eligible to receive student activity fee funding. Even the student abortion advocacy group, Campus Women’s Organization, is eligible to receive student activity funds.

The SGB ultimately reversed course after its discriminatory decision was publicized by the student newspaper. But this situation highlights the double-standard that public universities regularly apply to pro-life and religious speech. Indeed, even a Pitt campus activist who opposes SFL’s message recognized this:

I am disturbed by [the President’s] comment that “[…] I would disagree with the fundamental existence of the group”. On first glance, [the President] seems to be saying that he disagrees with the right to free exercise of religion, which seems unamerican to me. More to the point, his support of a denial of funds to this group appears to be censorious. His words, as included in this article, betray a disturbing lack of faith in democracy.

As a woman who volunteers as an escort for Pittsburgh’s Planned Parenthood (where pro-life students regularly protest) I believe all people have a right to voice their opinions publicly, whether this expression is termed “protesting”, “lobbying”, or “proselytizing”. . . .

I take it as an article of faith in the democratic process that all people may enter into the sloppy, messy conversation that is American politics. I believe that it is only through passionate conversation we as a nation can reach a better future. Censorship has no role to play in our democracy, even censorship cloaked as political correctness.

[The President] does pro-choice students no favors by denying pro-life students their voice. By hobbling Student’s for Life’s expression, [The President] is implying that pro-choice students are so ill-equiped to make their case that the Student Government Board must silence their opposition for them, rather than allow the two communities to debate freely.

This conference is a professional development opportunity, an opportunity for Students for Life to make its case heard in our nation’s capital, and a trip which has historically been supported by the Student Government Board. It is a show of bad faith that this group has been denied travel funds, and speaks against the Student Government Board’s commitment to democratic debate.

This student eloquently explains the proper, constitutional role public universities must take with respect to student activity fees, and student expression in general. It’s time university officials started listening.