Cloaking Faith in the Academy

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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.

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11 Responses to “Cloaking Faith in the Academy”

  1. Steve Young Says:

    And I suppose I must cloak my homosexuality just so that I won’t be discriminated against by Christians. I have to wonder why any hypocritical group could justifiably seek “equality” when they are essentially the most elitist group of discriminators themselves.

  2. joe hernandes Says:

    I agree steve, I am honestly a little appalled at the extreme irony present in the statements made on this blog. I am saddened at how true what you say is. The fact is that I am a “born again” Christian who recognizes how destructive and pervasive christian judgment is.
    The reason the world dislikes Christians is because of our extreme hypocrisy, we often disregard Jesus’ gospel of love. We can not expect non-Christians to act like the idealize “super-christian” should-because we can not live up to that our self. Being in the academic climate I see the irritation with christianity stems from this extreme hypocracy-not some innate hatred of christians. We are not the victims here- we created the problem.

  3. David Hacker Says:

    Steve and Joe,
    Thank you for reading the blog. The point I am making is that no one should have to cloak his or her opinions and views in order to succeed in higher education. Unfortunately, many people feel they have to. In fact, George Leef has another example today over at Phi Beta Cons. http://phibetacons.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NzQzZTkyNDdlYWZkZGU2ZDc5YmRkYTg2YjBjOGVlZmY=
    If you would like to comment further on opening the marketplace of ideas to all speakers, feel free. Otherwise, your topics will have to be reserved for another forum.

  4. Naturallawyer Says:

    Steve: you needn’t cloak your homosexuality at the risk of losing tenure or employment. Homosexuality is far more accepted in the public square.

    In any event, I think that the “Christian hypocrisy” to which academia is purportedly reacting has more to do with a media caricature than it does with academics’ actual experiences with religious people. Even if a few (or even most) Christians are hypocrites, that does not mean the academic environment should be unwelcoming to all Christians or Christian arguments. That is akin to rejecting homosexuals’ arguments because some homosexuals are militant, hateful people.

    Such discrimination has no place in academia. Every professor, student, and argument ought to be evaluated on merit, not on stereotypes. In order for that to happen, academia must be a place where the exchange of ideas is not subject to punishment without first receiving serious analytical consideration.

  5. Andrew Coleman Says:

    The problem with this entire movement is that “Christians” who believe that they cannot speak their beliefs are ignorant. They would be allowed to say their ideas about religion if they were ideas, but instead they are beliefs and almost all who do speak about conservative Christian beliefs are not willing to listen to other viewpoints. Instead, they “know” that they are right and are not willing to listen to other views. That is what must change! Fix that! Don’t go after the administration for having bad views of people who act badly. Fix how Christians act because right now, they do not act with Christ.

  6. David Hacker Says:

    Andrew, thank you for the comment. However, I must disagree with your premise. There is no difference between “ideas” and “beliefs” under the First Amendment. Everyone is allowed the freedom to express their views, and where that right is inhibited by administrators (no matter the viewpoint, Christian or not), that violates the First Amendment.

    • Kyle Says:

      I think you are mistaken about this. The First Amendment protects your rights to speech, press, peaceable assembly, and petition of grievances. It does not entitle anyone else has to promote your ideas or beliefs, which is what you seem to be expecting these professors to do. How could you expect them to generate glowing graduate recommendations for what they consider to be a flawed interpretation of their material?

    • Naturallawyer Says:

      Kyle:

      I think you missed the point. It is often the professors themselves that are being shackled. And students and professors are often keeping their faith to themselves *outside* the classroom for fear of negative repercussions inside the classroom. This isn’t about an ability to retain or explain material taught in another professor’s classroom. It’s about the freedom to speak in the academic environment, outside of another professor’s classroom, or in an open-ended assignment (like a dissertation, where one chooses his own topic).

      If a professor is free to advocate infanticide [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer#Abortion.2C_euthanasia_and_infanticide], why shouldn’t professors also be free to advocate truths that are consistent with the Christian faith?

      • Kyle Says:

        I don’t see your argument.

        Peter Singer has faced academic and personal “negative repercussions” from his work as well as positive affects. These positive and negative repercussions come from the strength of his arguments as well as public and academic reactions to published work. Other professors are just as free to to profess their opinions and arguments and receive the accolades or criticism that come. Simply being afraid of repercussions that follow expressing an opinion or point of view is hardly the same as being unable to express it. Such professors are not shackled, as you put it, but merely lack the courage or knowledge to stray outside perceived institutional norms or disagree with more senior academics.

  7. Tyler Says:

    David you say, “The point I am making is that no one should have to cloak his or her opinions and views in order to succeed in higher education.”

    What then if I were to believe that the solar system revolved around the earth? Should I ‘succeed’ in my Astronomy class even though I refuse to believe the heliocentric content put forth in my course?

    I agree wholeheartedly that everyone should be allowed to voice their opinions and ideas. I do, however, find major flaw in the argument you have posed here that people should be able to succeed in higher education regardless of the superstitious beliefs they insist are facts.

    What would make you happy? Anyone with any viewpoint on any particular subject be granted an A simply for showing up, despite the fact their viewpoint is contradictory to the academically accepted material?

    No, what makes you and others like you upset is simply the fact that the academic community recognizes that your religious beliefs are nothing more than superstitions derived from fairy tales that are thousands of years old. They won’t agree that there is any validity to your beliefs and that makes you upset.

    This whole site/movement is a JOKE! Christians being discriminated against? Really? As others on this post have already pointed out, a christian claiming to be discriminated against is not only hypocritical but truly absurd.

    Every president the US has ever had has been a Christian. You call that discrimination? No the true discrimination in the US is against any one who does not believe in christianity.

  8. Ashley Says:

    In fact, one could trace this problem to the backgrounds. In insulated and cushy lives, people tend to be more open-even when it comes to their own. This doesn’t apply in the real world. People are so intent to keep their beliefs unstained that if another person is encountered, they immediately plug their own ears.

    It’s 2010. People shouldn’t have to cloak themselves for anything.

    Another thing on why Christians sometimes do cloak themselves is that if there’s a religious debate, there is a hefty chance that the cloakee is unable to debate with anyone and will most likely lose. That doesn’t apply to everyone, though.

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