Archive for March, 2010

Right to Belong: Does the Christian Legal Society have the right to exist?

March 30, 2010

Reblogged from abajournal.com: Supreme Court Report: By David L. Hudson, Jr

Right to Belong: Christian Group says it does; California law school says it doesn’t.

“Law professor Erwin Chemerinsky is monitoring the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez with a keen eye. One reason is substantive: The case features a clash between the rights of schools to enforce their nondiscrimination policies and student religious groups’ rights of freedom of association. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments April 19.”

Click to read the rest of the article.

Preserving the Message of the Gospel

March 26, 2010

Does a desire to preserve the expressive message of a Christian student group conflict with Christ’s call for us to “make disciples of all nations”?  That is the basic question posed by a comment to Greg’s “First CLS, Then the Klan?” post:

As a Christian law student I wonder how we are suppose to reach other people if we keep them out of our groups? Did Jesus speak only to Jews? I don’t know how I am suppose to live like Jesus if I am to seperate [sic] myself from anything that doesn’t believe. Just like Jesus spoke to the Samaritan women and the “sinners” we need to create a space for people of different beliefs to feel comfortable and learn about Jesus without feeling ostracized. Why would we want a club where only chritians [sic] can meet? We should remember that Jesus came for the sick not the healthy.

I agree with the premise of this comment, which is that Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  (Luke 19:10.)  Jesus’ message is one of hope and grace, of showing people that they need to stop running from God and start running toward Him.  Christ’s message was not just for Jews, but also for Gentiles.  But Jesus’ purpose—or message of salvation—does not conflict with His commandment to take this message to “all nations.”

The lack of conflict is evident in who Christ selected to spread His message.  He did not select unrepentant sinners or even those who thought of themselves as the most righteous under the Law.  Rather, Christ selected apostles who believed in Him and his message of salvation.  Those who were unwilling to repent were not the leaders of the early Church.  What happened when some early members of the Church argued that in order to be a true Christian, you had to continue to uphold the old Law?  Paul opposed them and said that they were not preaching the “truth of the gospel.”  (Galatians 2:14.)  Paul and the other apostles maintained the message of Christ by ensuring that false brothers did not infiltrate their ranks.  This occurs throughout the New Testament.  One of the consistent warnings for the early Church from Paul and the other apostles was not to be misled by false teachers.  (See, e.g., Acts 20:28-31; 2 Corinthians 11:1-15; 1 Timothy 1; Titus 1:10-16; 2 Peter 2; 2 John; and Jude.)

In the same way today, many churches do not allow unbelieving people to serve as pastors, leaders or even members.  How could a Christian church remain faithful to Christ’s message if it were led by a non-Christian or one who claimed to be a Christian but adhered to false doctrine?  It would not; its Christian message would evaporate.  In fact, to carry out Christ’s message that we take the gospel to “all nations” our churches must remain faithful to Christ’s message of salvation.  For example, if a non-Christian were allowed to lead a church and preached that salvation comes through obedience to the law, then the church would not be preaching the “truth of the gospel,” which is salvation by faith alone.

This is true especially for a church or parachurch organizations and ministries, but is also true for other kinds of groups.  For example, should an avid hunter be allowed to lead an animal rights group?  And if the hunter was allowed, what would happen to the group’s message?  It is for this reason that our nation recognizes the importance of enabling groups of citizens to come together to express a particular message and the ability of those groups to ensure the integrity of their message by choosing members and leaders who believe in it.  We absolutely need to create a space for people to feel welcome in our churches and in our Christian groups, but that does not conflict with the desire of these groups to preserve their message.  The Christian Legal Society case is not about excluding non-Christians from participating in the group, it is about preserving the message of the group.  Indeed, the facts show that CLS welcomes all students to participate.  Thus, the constitutional right of freely associating with like-minded people who believe in the group’s message is not in conflict with Jesus’ message of taking the hope of the gospel to all nations.  Indeed, it assures our ability to do so.

Please leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpU

UC Santa Cruz Professor Urges California Legislature to Consider the Lack of Intellectual Diversity on Campus

March 25, 2010

When academic institutions refuse to permit dissenting voices, they do not only hurt the dissenters.  They also damage the quality of the education they provide, even for those who agree with the prevailing view.  John Ellis, President of the California Association of Scholars and Professor Emeritus of German Literature at UC Santa Cruz, explains this downward spiral in a statement submitted to the California Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education:

The clearest indication of how serious the lack of intellectual diversity has become is the state of Political Science departments in the University of California.  Surveys have found that many of them are almost exclusively staffed by professors who are politically left of center.  In any department, this would be regrettable, and suspicious.  But in a politics department, the lack of intellectual diversity in political thought raises a serious question of competence.  Departments that exclude one half of the spectrum of thought in their field are simply incompetent departments.  They can’t provide students with a challenging intellectual environment where they learn to think for themselves, and know that whatever position they take, they will have to face tough scrutiny from contrary opinion.  One has to wonder: what kind of professor of politics would want a department like that?  And how did we come to appoint them?  If accountability is your concern, why not ask those simple questions of the university?

Let me be quite clear:  my concern here has nothing to do with being fair to conservatives. . . .  It’s a far more serious matter than that, and it should concern everyone, whatever their political opinions.  It’s about the dumbing down of education.  One-sided departments can’t educate.  John Stuart Mill put the point best when he said: “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.”  What Mill is saying here is that you don’t really understand the case for the left until you also thoroughly grasp the case for the right, because the one is an answer to the other and so each is a necessary part of understanding the other.  If leftist professors think they can simply present the other side’s case themselves, Mill had this devastating response: “Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post as soon as there is no enemy in the field.” And for that reason, he went on to say, the student must “be able to hear [the arguments] from people who actually believe them, who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”

If you follow this thought, you’ll see that it is not just the side that is excluded that suffers.  In fact, the side that does the excluding suffers the most intellectually.  A political monoculture sooner or later always degenerates into extremism and incoherence, because it needs an opposition to keep it healthy.  Only your intellectual enemies have the motivation to pick off your weaker arguments and keep you intellectually sharp.  The proof of this proposition is there for anyone to see.  The general public has a very low opinion of the campus political culture, and that is exactly what we should expect to be the fate of any political monoculture.  A lack of intellectual diversity hurts both left and right.

Due to the lack of intellectual diversity, Professor Ellis went on to describe the University of California system as “the most degraded campus climate I have seen in my lifetime.”  Given that Professor Ellis has been teaching at UC Santa Cruz since 1966, that says something.

The Sweet Sixteen of Liberty

March 24, 2010

One of the downsides of defending First Amendment rights on campus for a living is that you begin to think of universities as the sum of their speech code parts.  Rather than fight this tendency, I decided to try picking an NCAA tourney bracket based on how the games should come out if it was based on the schools’ commitment to the First Amendment rights of students.  The Secretary of Education has suggested banning teams with low graduation rates from the tournament.  Perhaps banning those with a red light rating from FIRE might also be considered.  (O.K., both are bad ideas, but bear with me). 

The first two rounds have seen mixed results from a First Amendment perspective.  For instance, Murray State, President Obama’s upset special that did knock off Vandy in its first round game before succumbing to Butler, had the “speech code of the month” (not a good thing) for March.  And Cal. Berkeley–the flagship of a UC system that has decided that it will simply ban expressive association on campus–beat Louisville in the first round but is now at home after being dispatched by Duke.  Perhaps if the Cal. men’s basketball team hadn’t been required to give playing time to people who oppose basketball it might have fared better.  That’s what an open membership policy will do for you. 

A dilemma with making these picks is that most universities have a bad First Amendment track record.  So one must choose between schools that, from a First Amendment perspective, should be on the CBI bubble.  There is also the problem of private v. public universities.  How does one compare the environment for speech on campus at a Christian private university and a public state school?  I developed a few guideposts:

  1. FIRE’s red/yellow/green light rating is an important factor.
  2. Prior and current First Amendment violations by a campus are negatives that can cause a school to lose to a school that only has bad policies on paper.  Practice trumps policy.
  3. A university will not be excused for its past violations just because the policies have now been changed as a result of litigation.      
  4. Private universities get some leeway, but not a complete pass.  Otherwise the exercise becomes pointless as Baylor and St. Mary’s battle to a scoreless tie.
  5. Duke must lose.    
  6. I retain the authority to apply additional criteria as I choose and to apply the above criteria in any manner I wish.  One might say my discretion is unbridled.  Especially insofar as is necessary  to give effect to rule 5. 

 

The Picks:

MIDWEST

Northern Iowa v. Michigan State

Michigan State was recently on FIRE’s red alert list of schools with some of the worst speech codes in the country after it applied a spamming policy to prohibit a student from emailing professors to protest a university decision.  However, without litigation it has since amended its codes making Michigan State a yellow light school in FIRE’s ratings. 

Northern Iowa, despite its heroics in knocking off Kansas, is also a FIRE red light school.  In fact, it had the speech code of the month in 2008 where FIRE noted that the school prohibits “inappropriate words” in its “bias incident” policy.  

In the end, while it is a close call between these two non-paragons of freedom, Michigan State beats Northern Iowa on the strength of a late three-pointer by Dean Joan Howarth of the Michigan State Law School, an ACLU member and GLBT advocate who wrote a law review article defending CLS’s position in CLS v. Martinez.  Such intellectual honesty is refreshing and commendable. 

Pick–Michigan State

Tennessee v. Ohio State

This one is relatively easy.  Ohio State has a red light from FIRE.  Tennessee is green!  This places it in rarified air among universities, only about 2% of which achieve this rating.  And THE OSU’s history is even worse.  In 2003, OSU derecognized its CLS chapter when they group refused to sacrifice its Statement of Faith for voting members and officers.  While OSU eventually amended its policies to protect the First Amendment rights of religious student groups it did so only in response to a lawsuit by CLS and ADF.  So as much as it pains this Bama fan…

Pick–Tennessee 

WEST

Syracuse v. Butler

This is a matchup of two private schools.  While private, Syracuse says that it is open to the free exchange of ideas on campus.  Yet, despite its promises, the school has a red light rating because its policies don’t match its rhetoric.    

Butler is also private but has not been rated by FIRE.  Conservative activist David Horowitz was hit by a pie at Butler in 2005 by students who did not like his views.  Butler recently garnered attention by suing a student blogger who criticized the school’s dismissal of a faculty member.  

Pick–In a tight one, Syracuse.

Xavier v. Kansas State

Kansas State has a red light rating from FIRE, largely on the strength of its policy prohibiting “rude or challenging behavior” by those with a “formal association” to the school (undefined).  In truth, this is a statewide policy that would appear to apply at Kansas University as well–perhaps explaining the loss to Northern Iowa.  Had they challenged Ali Farokhmanesh’s three-pointer late in the game they might still be dancing.  Kansas State also removed the advisor of a campus newspaper after a “content analysis” determined that the paper was not sufficiently covering issues related to “diversity.”

Xavier is a private Catholic school unrated by FIRE.  But a student helpfully provides a discussion of school policies and actions on student expression–generally protecting free speech but understandably denying support for activities that oppose Catholic teaching.   

Pick–Xavier.

EAST

Kentucky v. Cornell

The University of Kentucky is one of the 20% of universities with a yellow light from FIRE, so it deserves some credit. 

Cornell is a quasi-public, quasi-private institution–a bit of an anomaly.  But whatever its state status, the school has garnered a red light rating from FIRE, largely because of the school’s vague and overbroad harassment and “bias” policies.  And this rating doesn’t even take into account the school’s treatment of Christian (and other) student groups which have been in limbo for months while Cornell decides whether or not it will honor the right of association.  More here on what FIRE has referred to as Cornell’s “tortured relationship with free speech.”   

Pick–Kentucky.

Washington v. West Virginia

This is a matchup of FIRE red light schools:  Washington and West Virginia.  Washington denied student teaching credit for a student who wanted to teach at a Catholic school claiming that the state’s Blaine Amendment forbade it from aiding religion in this way.  UW only backed down after an ADF lawsuit.  And West Virginia only abandoned its extraordinarily restrictive speech zone policy (limiting expression to two areas on campus) after a Rutherford Institute lawsuit.  But in this close matchup, it comes down to bench play.  The West Virginia Attorney General, the father of the President of the Hastings Democrats, joined an amicus brief supporting association rights on campus in CLS v. Martinez.  (See p.2 n.1).     

Pick–West Virginia but I’m not happy about it.

SOUTH

Duke v. Purdue

Purdue has a red light rating.  Among Purdue’s foibles was its near decision to require a Christian women’s group to drop the Christian part.  It backed down under pressure.  But as FIRE notes, Purdue has made strides.

Duke has a FIRE yellow light rating.  But its women’s center recently prohibited pro-life groups from using space.  And, while not technically a First Amendment issue, who would want the administrators that handled the Duke Lacrosse incident to be weighing the application of a speech code to you?  But more importantly, see guidelines 5 and 6.

Pick–Purdue.

Baylor v. St. Mary’s (CA)

This is a matchup of two private Christian schools.  Thus, neither have FIRE ratings.  In this situation, I’m going to fall back on otherwise irrelevant factors like basketball.  St. Mary’s is the Omar Samhan show.  And they’ve finally met their match in a big Baylor squad that can neutralize him. 

Pick–Baylor. 

THE FINAL FOUR

Tennessee (with its green light!) takes out Michigan State.

Xavier knocks off Syracuse.

Kentucky over West Virginia.

Baylor slips by Purdue.

The National Championship game is Tennessee v. Baylor.  It’s a close matchup, but in the end one of Baylor’s greatest strengths, it’s new President, and friend of the First Amendment, Ken Starr, trips it up as his much too pro-school authority position in Morse v. Frederick allows Tennessee to eek out a win and the national championship.

Judge Rules Professor’s Opinion Columns Are Not Protected by the First Amendment

March 17, 2010

A federal judge ruled Monday that nationally syndicated opinion columns written by a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington are not protected by the First Amendment because he referred to them on a promotion application.

ADF attorneys argue that the university refused to promote Dr. Mike Adams to full professor because of his religious beliefs and political viewpoints, as espoused through his columns.  They are considering their options for appealing the decision.

“Christian professors should not be discriminated against because of their beliefs.  No university should refuse promotion to an accomplished professor simply because it disagrees with his religious and political views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence.  “We disagree with the court’s assessment that Dr. Adams’ speech is somehow not protected by the Constitution.  Opinion columns are classic examples of free speech protected by the First Amendment, and mentioning them on a promotion application does not change this fact.”

Adams frequently received accolades from his colleagues after the university hired him as an assistant professor in 1993 and promoted him to associate professor in 1998 when he was an atheist.  However, intrusive investigations, baseless accusations, and the denial of promotion to full professor followed his conversion to Christianity in 2000, even though his scholarly output surpassed that of almost all of his colleagues.

ADF attorneys representing Adams sued UNCW in April 2007, arguing that he was harassed and denied a promotion because his Christian beliefs did not coincide with the political and philosophical stance of his superiors.  The court denied the university’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in 2008.

The summary judgment order in the case Adams v. The Trustees of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington was issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Southern Division.

Georgia Tech: four years later

March 16, 2010

Four years ago today, Ruth Malhotra and Orit Sklar took a stand for liberty at their public university, or in this case, their Institute.  While students at Georgia Institute of Technology, Malhotra and Sklar were subject to discrimination because of their religious and conservative views.  Their experiences were not isolated, but designed by an administration hostile to free speech.  Georgia Tech policy prohibited “acts of intolerance,” limited student free speech to the small amphitheater on campus, preferred some religious denominations to others in campus training programs, and prohibited religious students from gaining equal access to student fees (even though the student fees were mandatory).  When these policies and their experiences became intolerable, they sued. 

The lawsuit eventually ended, but not until the speech code was removed, the student speech zone eliminated, and the religious discrimination stopped.  Along the way, did the campus community rally to their support in favor of free speech?  No.  Instead, people sent death threats, students started a group to intimidate Malhotra, and the administration created a council called “Finding Common Ground” to dialogue about diversity and criticize the efforts of these two women. 

Four years later, Malhotra and Sklar will speak tonight about their experiences and the success of their lawsuit at Georgia Tech.  Much was accomplished by these women, but there is still work to be done.  Despite Supreme Court case law to the contrary, Georgia Tech still believes it can exclude religious activities from student fee funding.  Who will be the next person to stand for liberty at Tech?

Our interview with the Ruth Institute President, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

March 12, 2010

A few weeks ago, Heather Hacker and I sat down with Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, President of the Ruth Institute, to talk about campus censorship.  The podcast is now online and can be found here.

Historical Amnesia at Rutgers

March 7, 2010

On Tuesday, Dave Imbriaco, a Rutgers student majoring in history, published an op-ed in the Rutgers student newspaper challenging the notion that Christian students are being discriminated against at public university across the country.  I’m glad he wrote the piece because it allows us to look back on a snapshot of Rutgers’ history and clarify the well-established law that so many students, faculty and administrators are mistaken about. 

In 2002, Rutgers banned the InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship from campus because it required leaders to “adhere to biblical standards and belief in all areas of their lives.”  Imagine that, the group actually had the gall to try to preserve its biblical mission by requiring Christian leaders.  InterVarsity eventually had to sue in federal district court to regain its status on campus, which forced Rutgers’ hand and resulted in a settlement restoring InterVarsity to campus.  Was this incident isolated?  No.  In fact, this April the Supreme Court will hear argument in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case similar to InterVarsity’s that grew out of a similar ban at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

Mr. Imbriaco’s op-ed asserts that he “cannot also help but notice the incredibly painful irony in the claim that Christian students are somehow being ‘oppressed’ in any way.”  I think InterVarsity would disagree.  Throwing a group off campus because of its faith-based leadership requirements sounds oppressive to me.  To be sure, the same thing didn’t happen to the College Republicans and College Democrats at Rutgers, nor did it happen to other religious groups. 

In response to the growing threat of indoctrination by campus administrators and faculty, Mr. Imbriaco claims that indoctrination is nothing more than “a free-flowing exchange of ideas where people that [sic] are better at describing one’s world take precedence over those that are not. Good ideas stay in the mix and are improved upon, and bad ideas are weeded out and discarded.”  I think Julea Ward and Emily Brooker would disagree, as would the students at the University of Delaware.  All of them were told to change their beliefs and ideas in order to conform to campus orthodoxy.  In Ms. Ward’s case, the university expelled her for not changing her beliefs on the issue of homosexual behavior.  Ward wasn’t allowed to have her ideas heard, let alone considered.  Mandating change in personal beliefs is not “a free-flowing exchange of ideas,” it is indoctrination, and it is unconstitutional.  As the Supreme Court said in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette:  “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

With respect to censorship of Christians on campus, Mr. Imbriaco writes that this is merely “rejection of a system of describing the universe that no longer explains what it claims to explain. In other words, it’s not that we’re actively censoring Christian perspectives on campus. Rather, we’ve decided that these perspectives are outdated, irrelevant or just plain silly in this modern age.”  Wait, I thought Mr. Imbriaco wanted a “free-flowing exchange of ideas?”  Obviously not.  Mr. Imbriaco’s logic follows those of campus speech codes, which have been uniformly struck down by every court that has considered them.  Universities should encourage debate and discussion of ideas, not prohibit them from the start as Imbriaco contends.  Yet, according to a study by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut, fifty-five percent of students said religious individuals should be careful “not to offend people while spreading their beliefs.”  Every great idea in history started out as being “silly” or unorthodox in some way.  But if universities functioned the way Mr. Imbriaco believes they should, those ideas would have never emerged because those in the majority would have been able to stifle them.  That is not a reflection of the historical “marketplace of ideas” that colleges and universities are supposed to be.  Ideas come and go in a free society, but it is not the government’s place to decide which are allowed and which are not.

Mr. Imbriaco then postulates that even if discrimination against Christians does occur, the “law states that institutions that receive government funding must not participate in any kind of religious indoctrination or create an environment that favors one religious group over another.”  That’s about as accurate as saying the sky is red.  Actually, Rutgers, like all public colleges and universities, must provide equal access to all students when it comes to freedom of expression, student fee funding, student group association, etc., and the Supreme Court has held that for many years.  Treating Christians the same as other students upholds the Constitution, it doesn’t violate it.  Moreover, Imbriaco’s argument is ignorant of the historical context of the Establishment Clause, which was to ensure that the government was neutral with respect to denominations, not empower the government to act with hostility toward religion, or any other beliefs it does not approve.  As the Court said in Lynch v. Donnelly, “[n]or does the Constitution require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.”  Similarly, in Larson v. Valente, the high Court said that the “clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.”  Thus, in the case of InterVarsity, allowing it to exist on campus just like all other student groups was consistent with the Establishment Clause, and the First Amendment’s other guarantees. 

Given that the UConn study found that one in four college students cannot name any of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment, it is not surprising that Mr. Imbriaco’s assertions are inaccurate.  But the problem in his op-ed is that it fails to articulate any facts justifying his positions.  The ADF Center for Academic Freedom has plenty of facts showing that Christians are indeed treated like second class citizens on campus.  I hope Mr. Imbriaco visits our website and learns more about the history of discrimination against Christians on campus.

First CLS, Then the Klan?

March 2, 2010

Today, Professor Marci Hamilton and I debated Christian Legal Society v. Martinez at Cardozo School of Law in New York City.  Professor Hamilton argued that the Supreme Court should not hold that Hastings College of the Law violated the Constitution by refusing to confer registered student organization status on its CLS chapter because the chapter draws its officers and voting members from among those who share its religious commitments.

Prof. Hamilton asserted that the “bottom line question” in this case is as follows:  if the Court orders Hastings to recognize CLS, will public law schools be required to recognize the Ku Klux Klan?

Although it is not difficult to imagine that a Justice might ask such a question during oral argument, I find it hard to agree that this question is the “bottom line” in the case.  The bottom line is whether Hastings violated the Constitution by pressuring a religious group to subordinate its religious character.

During the “equal access” debates in the 1980s, opponents argued that requiring public schools to give student Bible clubs access to meeting space would lead to the proliferation of Nazi, skinhead, and Klan groups on campus.  Over 25 years after the adoption of the federal Equal Access Act, we can safely say that these fears were utterly unfounded.  The notion that groups of racist law students are poised to seek official recognition from America’s public law schools, just waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in CLS’s favor, is frankly preposterous.

More fundamentally, there is an enormous distinction between an entity engaging in invidious race discrimination and religious organization requiring its leaders and members to share its religious views.  A synagogue that requires its rabbi to be Jewish is not like the Klan.  A mosque that requires its imam to be Muslim is not like the Klan.  And a CLS chapter that requires its Bible study leaders to be a Christian is not like the Klan.  Sometimes, unfortunately, it is necessary to say what ought to be self-evident.

Plausibility Structures and Academia

March 2, 2010

In the comments to another post on this blog, there was some debate about whether Christians are actually discriminated against in the academy, or if they merely fail to succeed academically because they are not very good scholars, they do not understand the assigned material, or their arguments simply are not very good.

That is a possibility. It would, however, seem odd that the same faith that inspired the establishment of countless major private universities in this nation now cannot produce believers smart enough or disciplined enough to succeed in the universities established by their faithful antecedents. Even so, Christians and others must be careful not to seek some sort of religious affirmative action to excuse scholarly mediocrity from criticism.

Nevertheless, there remains an issue to address: will the plausibility structures of the gatekeepers of academia permit the arguments of true-believing religious students and professors to receive a fair hearing? Will they even consider the arguments that tend to prove truths consistent with Judeo-Christian values but not with the secularist academy? J.P. Moreland touched on this point in his article, Academic Integration and the Christian Scholar:

A person will never be able to change his/her life if he/she cannot even entertain the beliefs needed to bring about that change. By “entertain a belief” I mean to consider the possibility that the belief might be true. . . .

A person’s plausibility structure is the set of ideas the person either is or is not willing to entertain as possibly true. For example, no one would come to a lecture defending a flat earth because this idea is just not part of our plausibility structure. We cannot even entertain the idea. Moreover, a person’s plausibility structure is largely (though not exclusively) a function of the beliefs he or she already has. Applied to accepting or maintaining Christian belief, J. Gresham Machen got it right when he said:

“[G]od usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.”

If a culture reaches the point where Christian claims are not even part of its plausibility structure, fewer and fewer people will be able to entertain the possibility that they might be true. Whatever stragglers do come to faith in such a context would do so on the basis of felt needs alone and the genuineness of such conversions would be questionable to say the least. And believers will not make much progress in the spiritual life because they will not have the depth of conviction or the integrated noetic [knowledge] structure necessary for such progress. This is why integration is so crucial to spirituality. It can create a plausibility structure in a person’s mind . . . so Christian ideas can be entertained by that person.

For the critics that have been commenting on this blog, the relevant question is not whether Christian scholars on the whole have the goods to succeed in academia. The relevant question is whether they could succeed even if they do. If the plausibility structures of the overwhelming majority of academics will not even tolerate the suggestion that Christianity is true, or that common secular beliefs are insufficient to explain reality, Christians will always be excluded by such narrow-minded academics no matter how valid or truthful their arguments are.  And if that is the case, the academy is not worldview-neutral, but anti-faith.

Thus, while Christian scholars should not shy away from the opportunity to integrate their faith and their field, and they are responsible for their choice to do so, the narrow plausibility structures of academic gate-keepers cannot be held blameless of hindering the pursuit of knowledge. It is certainly no coincidence that in many top-ranked law schools in 2005, over 90% of the professors donating to political campaigns “just so happened” to donate to Democrats.  Political position is not the equivalent of religious belief, but it goes to show that academic institutions prefer to hire their own kind.

The fact that university professors are so out of step with the public is plainly the result of institutional bias and narrow plausibility structures. Academics are more impressed with their own than with those who disagree, and they naturally favor other professors who “fit in” when reviewing and hiring graduate students and more junior professors. If a religious student is hoping to break into those major institutions, it requires a great deal of fortitude for him or her to tell the decision-makers that their theories and publications are wrong. It will obviously be easier to get in by adopting their worldview, telling them how wonderful their work is, and explaining how one hopes to use that work to springboard to new areas.

Where public universities are concerned, our government school administrations ought to have very broad plausibility structures, not narrow ones.  That is not to say that individual professors should not be able to teach consistently with their worldviews.  They should.  But when it comes to allowing other graduate students and professors into the field, narrow plausibility structures have no place.  There is no reason to shut the door on scholars with new (or ancient) ideas.  One way to broaden the plausibility structures is to strictly guard against worldview discrimination in grading, not to mention the censorhip of campus speech.  Professors generally ought to grade students based on whether their conclusions follow from their premises, not whether the argument fits the status quo. 

As my alma mater’s affirmation statement emphasizes, “Truth has nothing to fear from investigation.”