religious liberty

George W. Bush gave a commencement address Saturday at Southern Methodist University in Texas, a speech that included a few jokes as well as some spiritual words of inspiration for the class of 2015.

“Moses recognized the call to serve something greater than himself. He answered the call, led his people, and history was made,” the former U.S. president said. “You, too, will be called at some point. The question … is: Will you be optimistic and hopeful, or pessimistic and cynical? Here are three reasons why you should be optimistic and hopeful.”

Reason No. 1? The more than 2,000 graduates attended a “great” university (wife and former First Lady Laura Bush’s alma mater; she currently serves as a SMU trustee).

“Secondly, you are blessed to live in the greatest nation – ever,” said Bush, prompting applause. “Here you can strive and succeed as far as you dare to dream.”

He encouraged student to serve others through volunteering and other selfless acts.

Quoting a World War II speech by Winston Churchill, Bush said: “These are not dark days. These are great days. The greatest our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.”

His third reason? A loving God.

“And finally, you can be hopeful because there is a loving god,” he said. “Whether you agree with that statement is your choice, it is not your government’s choice. It is essential to this nation’s future that we remember that the freedom to worship who we want, and how we want—or not worship at all—is a core belief of our founding.”

“I have made my choice,” he went on. “I believe that the Almighty’s grace and unconditional love will sustain you. I believe it will bring you joy amidst the trials of life. It will enable you to better see the beauty around you. It will provide a solid foundation amidst a rapidly changing, somewhat impersonal, technologically driven world. It will show you how to love your neighbor, forgive more easily, and approach success with humility—and failure without fear.”

“It will inspire you to honor your parents and eventually be a better spouse and parent yourself. It will help you fully grasp the value of life—all life. It will remind you that money, power, and fame are false idols. And I hope and believe that God’s love will inspire you to serve others.”

The Hill notes his reference to religious liberty comes as controversy over religious liberty laws have roiled the country.

But Bush’s speech also included several light-hearted moments, including this quip: “And as I like to tell the C students, you too can be president.” The joke prompted huge applause and cheers.

Another joke was this one: “So I got a call from my landlord – [campus President] Gerald Turner. … I was relieved to hear President Turner ask if I believed in free speech. I said yeah. He said, ‘Perfect. Here’s your chance to give one.'”

Bush received standing ovations both when he took the podium and at the conclusion of his speech.

Read a full transcript here.

IMAGE: SMU acreenshot

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Like other Christian students groups across the California State University system, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries got kicked off the CSU-Stanislaus campus last fall, where it’s had a presence for 40 years, because it required its student leaders to share its faith.

Now the CSU chapter is accusing the school of violating its promises after the chapter revised its constitution to allow non-Christians to run for leadership positions.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the chapter, says the school objected to a “protest clause” in the revised constitution that says the chapter believes the new school policies are unconstitutional:

When Chi Alpha appealed to the university president, Cal State changed its mind and agreed to allow the protest clause. Yet Cal State is still keeping Chi Alpha off campus.

In a Tuesday letter to the vice president of enrollment and student affairs, Chi Alpha says it’s “simply wrong” to claim the chapter hasn’t submitted an updated constitution. In fact, the letter says, it was submitted four months ago:

That constitution complies in every respect with the requirements you set forth in your letter. …

Since our Chi Alpha chapter has already submitted a constitution that is compliant with your latest request, we ask that you immediately reinstate Chi Alpha as a recognized student group and immediately allow the Cal State Stanislaus Chi Alpha chapter to return to campus for the remainder of this semester.

CSU is practicing baldfaced and selective discrimination, says Becket Fund legal counsel Adèle Keim:

Cal State Stanislaus allows fraternities to limit their leaders and members to men. So why can’t a religious group require its student religious leaders to practice what they preach?

Read the press release and letter.

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IMAGE: Becket Fund

The Associated Press has an in-depth look at the downward spiral for Gordon College after President D. Michael Lindsay signed a letter asking President Obama for certain exemptions around hiring and sexual orientation at the evangelical school.

It’s an especially important story because the evangelical school, as the AP itself says, is at the “liberal end of the spectrum” in Christian education – yet it’s being treated like Bob Jones University in its liberal New England community. And yet, unlike more pugnacious peers, Lindsay refuses to sue those who have discriminated against the school.

The College Fix has previously covered Gordon’s fall from grace for holding fast to Christian orthodoxy, including its potential loss of accreditation over Lindsay’s stand and the fact that several leaders close to Obama also signed the letter.

The fallout from Lindsay’s signature has been severe, the AP reports:

Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem responded by ending Gordon’s contract to manage the city’s Old Town Hall. Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum ended its academic relationship with the school and withdrew support for Gordon’s grant application to the National Endowment for the Humanities. The New England Association of Schools & Colleges started a review of the controversy. …

The committee voted 4-3 in late August to end its 11-year partnership between Gordon and Lynn public schools over Lindsay’s position. Thousands of Gordon volunteers had taught English to refugees, installed art in public elementary schools, distributed toys and gift cards at Christmas and helped students with their homework. Gordon had an office downtown, with a director who joined the boards of several local service agencies.

More on Gordon as the weird liberal aunt of the Christian college family:

The college upholds the Bible as the authoritative word of God while providing the “freedom to offer constructive criticism of this tradition.” Evolution is taught in the science program. Draped nude models are used for art students learning to draw the body — unusual in Christian art programs. An alcohol ban is only for campus and school events, instead of the blanket prohibition sometimes found at other evangelical schools. The 1,700 or so undergraduates are encouraged to respect different views of what it means to be Christian.

 

A respected sociologist and author, Lindsay himself is awfully moderate:

“I’m OK in civil society for there to be civil unions, insurance rights, domestic partnerships, all those kinds of things,” Lindsay said. “But the difference here I think we need to pay attention to — this is a religious institution that presumably might be asked to betray one of its core convictions.”

 

He says he’s gotten several offers from legal groups to sue the school’s former partners for unconstitutional retaliation, but won’t go that route:

He has met with faculty and staff and with gay students and alumni. He spoke to a teachers’ union in nearby Georgetown, which agreed to continue to host Gordon student-teachers, and sent letters to superintendents of other public schools where Gordon students trained.

When the fall semester began, Lindsay went to the dorms over two nights to answer questions from undergraduates. Gordon has formed a working group including trustees, students, administrators and faculty to address some of the concerns raised about the challenges for gay students on campus. The group, which includes a gay student and some faculty who oppose the current life and conduct statement, will meet through February.

Read the full AP story.

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IMAGE: Gordon College

The ACLU never tires of meddling with the religious freedom of others:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee sent letters this week to several local school superintendents calling on them to stop school-sponsored prayer before football games…

“Our experience is that many public school administrators and educators struggle with how the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom apply to prayer during their school-sponsored events,” said Hedy Weinberg, the ACLU’s executive director…

In a later interview, Weinberg said the organization sent out letters to 135 county and city school superintendents and directors in the state after reading reports from East Tennessee of coaches publicly endorsing prayer before games, which two Supreme Court decisions said violated the rights of those who didn’t want to take part.

And, here at The Fix our experience is that the ACLU “struggles” whenever people express their faith publicly. And they do their best to squash it out.

Read the full story here.

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Via The Washington Times:

A federal appeals court has rejected a college’s challenge to key mandates in President Obama’s health care law.

Liberty University, a Christian institution founded by the late pastor Jerry Falwell, challenged the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance; the contraception mandate requiring  employers to insure FDA-approved forms of birth control; and a mandate requiring employers of 50 or more workers to provide adequate insurance or pay fines.

… In their opinion, the appellate judges noted the Supreme Court has upheld the individual mandate as permissible under Congress’ taxing authority, and that the employer mandate regulates interstate commerce and existing economic activity.

Read more.

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Rollins College in central Florida is the latest institution of higher learning in the U.S. to wage war on student religious groups. College officials determined that Christian groups on campus were in violation of the school’s “non-discrimination policy.”

All Christian student groups who refuse to allow non-Christian leaders will cease to receive university funds, according to the school’s new interpretation of its “non-discrimination policy.” Because, of course, when a faith-based group wants its leaders to actually abide by its faith and beliefs–THAT’S DISCRIMINATION!!!!

Give me a break.

Now Rollins has reportedly ruled that students cannot even gather in their own dorms for a simple Bible study:

Four students affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship were holding an informal Bible study in the common area of a dorm suite. Midway through the study, a resident hall assistant entered the room and asked the student leading the study to step outside.

“He was told they were no longer allowed inside the dorm – even with the express consent of the students to do Bible studies,” said Greg Jao, InterVarsity’s national field director. “They said it was because InterVarsity was no longer a registered student group on campus.”

A Rollins spokesperson told Fox News that the rule was simply a miscommunication.

“No group is allowed to hold meetings in the common space of residence halls,” the spokesperson said. “A fraternity was recently in violation of this as well, and they were asked to meet elsewhere – so it was not just InterVarsity.”

Let’s get this straight because the logic employed by Rollins College in this story is very complicated.

1) Four students gather–not to hold an official meeting for their campus religious group–but rather in an informal setting to read the Bible together, and that’s suddenly a “group” holding “meetings?”

2) Students are told to leave the building because the religious group they happen to have been affiliated with is no longer recognized on campus.

3) Campus officials, when pressed by the news media, insist that the fact these four students were kicked out has nothing to do with the religious nature of the gathering, even though that’s what the students were told by the resident hall assistant.

4) The official says the reason the students were given for being kicked out was wrong, but that it is was right, nevertheless, for them to have been kicked out (for an entirely different reason).

Conclusion: If those four students had gathered instead to talk about the weather, or the Lakers, or to share celebrity gossip, that would have been OK–but talking about the Bible made the meeting not OK.

But it still has NOTHING to do with the students’ religion, they tell us.

Makes perfect sense, right?

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(Image by KnowHimOnline / Flickr)