Fix Features

religious liberty

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)

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Tennessee lawmakers are looking for ways to censure Vanderbilt University in the wake of the university’s crack down on student religious groups. This week, they are considering a bill that would revoke state recognition for the Vanderbilt University police department.

First reported by Fix contributor Kyle Blaine in September of 2011, Vanderbilt’s so-called “anti-discrimination” policy prohibited student religious groups from requiring that their own leaders to hold the beliefs of the group itself. In other words, a Christian group, can no longer require that it’s leaders must be Christians. Because, you know, that’s “discrimination.”

The College Fix reported at the time:

The Christian groups in question — Graduate Christian Fellowship, Christian Legal Society, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Sigma Phi Lamda — were placed on provisional status in April after the Office of the Dean of Students concluded that the organizations were not in compliance with the university’s nondiscrimination policy.

The noncompliance issue is the same for the four groups. Each group’s constitution contains a clause which restricts leadership positions to individuals who share the group’s core religious beliefs…

“People have come back to us and said ‘what do you mean? This is faith based. This is our values. If we change that, we are not who we are’ and what we’ve done is we’ve listened,” Helland said.

The struggle of Vandy’s religious students to retain the rights to organize their own groups as they saw fit was in danger. Ultimately, Vanderbilt leaders went forward with their move to control the leadership standards of student religious organizations. Religious liberty advocate and attorney David French pointed out the hypocrisy of the university’s new rule in an April 2012 article:

The university has decided that its religious organizations are subject to a so-called “all-comers” policy and must be open to non-Christian leadership. At the same time, it has exempted the university’s powerful Greek organizations — allowing the campus’s most discriminatory groups to exist unmolested…

Vanderbilt, like many large private universities, receives staggering amounts of public funds. At the same time, however, it believes that it should receive that funding as an entitlement — treating its students and the public however it wishes while feeding at the taxpayer trough…

Never mind the absurdity of such a rule. Religious liberty, freedom of association, and other such things don’t seem to matter much to Vanderbilt officials. Political correctness won the day.

Despite widespread protest and fallout from the new rule, Vanderbilt went ahead with it’s agenda. But not without blowback from Tennessee lawmakers, who looked at the whole spectacle with disbelief and outrage. The legislature issued a warning:

“We acknowledge that private institutions such as Vanderbilt University have the freedom to establish its associations and maintain the integrity of its institutional mission. As such, the University has the right to adopt and apply an “all-comers” policy for student organizations. But the state has a right not to subsidize any part of the operations of those organizations, like Vanderbilt University, that engage in unequal treatment of individuals and organizations, the effect of which is religious discrimination.”

However, the TN legislature’s attempts to reign in Vanderbilt by withdrawing all state funding were stymied by Republican governor Bill Haslam, who ultimately vetoed the bill that would have withdrawn state funding from Vanderbilt in May of last year. Mostly laughably, Haslam claimed to have vetoed the bill because he believed “in limited government.” (Withdrawing public funds from a private university would have been a great move for someone who believes “in limited government,” wouldn’t you say?)

Nevertheless, TN lawmakers re-emerged this week with a new plan to censure Vandy over it’s invasive “all-comers” rule. Legislators are now considering a bill that would strip the Vanderbilt Police Department of state recognition unless it abandons its restrictions on student religious groups.

The Tennessean reported on Tuesday:

Senate Bill 1241/House Bill 1150, sponsored by state Rep. Mark Pody and state Sen. Mae Beavers, would take police powers away from any university that has adopted policies that “discriminate” against religious student organizations. Seventeen universities in Tennessee have their own police departments.

But it is geared toward Vanderbilt, which has implemented a rule requiring recognized student groups to follow school policies that bar discrimination…

The Tennessean calls Vandy’s policy a “nondiscrimination policy.” What they should call it is a “pro-discrimination policy.” Because religious groups are clearly being targeted for special restrictions, which even the fraternities and sororities on campus are not subjected to. At least the Tennessean was balanced enough to include one quote from a conservative professor.

Carol Swain, a Vanderbilt professor who backs the legislation, said the university is trying to force religious clubs out of existence.

“It has put the student groups where they’re not able to grow in their faith, they have to operate underground,” she said. “These organizations will eventually wither away, and that seems to be the intent of the university.”

I have doubts about whether this new effort to motivate Vanderbilt to back away from it’s policy of religious discrimination will succeed. Gov. Haslam has already shown that he is prepared to veto any effort to censure the school. Nevertheless, I applaud the TN legislators who continue to fight to hold Vanderbilt accountable.

When efforts to govern the private religious affiliations of students are openly carried out by institutions that receive millions of dollars each year in public funds, lawmakers have a right and a duty to withhold public funds.

When religious discrimination is carried out in the name of “nondiscrimination,” we’ve reached a place in time where the word “discrimination” no longer has any meaning.

Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix, and author of the book, SEX & GOD AT YALE: porn, political correctness, and a good education gone bad (St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, 2012).

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Rollins College in central Florida has decided that Christian student clubs that require Christian leaders are in violation of the school’s “non-discrimination policy.” Rollins has decided that all Christian student groups who refuse to allow non-Christian leaders will cease to receive university funds.

Todd Starnes reports for Fox News Radio:

The college’s board of trustees voted unanimously not to exempt the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship from the policy – meaning the Christian group will no longer receive funding and will not be recognized as an official campus organization.

“The principles of the nondiscrimination policy, which are at the heart of the educational process, are inconsistent with allowing exceptions for student organizations,” the college said in a statement. “Such exemptions would be inconsistent with the processes of learning and growth that the College seeks to foster.”

Rollins isn’t the first institution to make the seemingly absurd suggestion that Christian groups should accept non-Christian leaders. The College Fix first reported on this trend in fall of 2011, when Vanderbilt University made national headlines by becoming one of the first university’s to insist that Christian groups open themselves up to non-Christian leaders.

As Fix Contributor Kyle Blaine reported, Carol M. Swain, professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt, publicly criticized the institution. “This hastily conceived policy has the potential to destroy every religious organization on campus by secularizing religion and allowing intolerant conflict,” Swain wrote. “Carried to its logical extension, it means that no organization can maintain integrity of beliefs.”

The irony is that, long ago, both Rollins and Vanderbilt were founded as Christian institutions. You wouldn’t know it now.

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Notre Dame senior Bob Burkett writes for the Irish Rover:

In response to the accommodations put forth by the Obama administration, groups including the New York Times, American Civil Liberties Union and NARAL Prochoice America have provided their support and praise. A Washington Post columnist even went so far as to write that the compromise “ought to be taken by the nation’s Catholic bishops as the victory it is.”

Some legal scholars are inclined to disagree. Gerard V. Bradley, Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, remarked on the complexities of the rules.

“One can say with confidence the following: 1) religious hospitals are, as before, not exempt ‘religious employers’; 2) religious charities are very likely not exempt either, unless they are run out of a church or are very tightly integrated with a church. So, a parish or even a diocese’s Saint Vincent De Paul operations would probably be an exempt ‘religious employer,’ whereas Catholic Charities would not be; 3) the new proposal may (or may not) make it more likely that parish grade schools are exempt ‘religious employers.’”

With regard to Catholic higher education, Bradley argued that “it is certain that Catholic colleges and universities do not qualify as exempt ‘religious employers’…the proposal adds some additional layering to the earlier attempts to insulate the schools, but nothing of decisive moral significance is included.”

Other critics of the plan include religious liberty law firms such as the Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom and political analysts such as Yuval Levin.

Levin wrote that the plan, “like the versions that have preceded it, betrays a complete lack of understanding of both religious liberty and religious conscience…the government has forced a needless and completely avoidable confrontation and has knowingly put many religious believes in an impossible situation.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has yet to release a detailed statement, noting that it “welcome[d] the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely” and “look[ed] forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”

The plan has been additionally susceptible to critique by for-profit organizations that also have conscientious objections to the HHS Mandate,  like Hobby Lobby and Autocam Corporation.

Matthew Schmitz of First Things wrote in defense of such organizations, “the Obama administration believes that conscientious objections to contraception should prevail in the non-profit sector, but not in for-profit corporations. Why? Do employees of non-profits need contraception less? Do conscience claims of their leaders matter more? Why are tax-exempt organizations granted more rights than those which pay taxes?”

Ronald J. Colombo, Professor of Law at Hofstra University, believes that the distinction between non-profit and for-profit organizations is a “convenient rule of thumb, but when it comes to constitutional matters such as freedom of religion it’s not appropriate. There are for-profit corporations that are much more religious than non-profits.”

Colombo argued that current state and federal laws have “impede[d] the ability of business enterprises to adopt, pursue, and maintain distinctively religious personae.” Without the ability for businesses to display or conform to a distinctly religious character, “religious expression and practice is restricted to the private quarters of one’s home,” a condition that entails that “religious freedom does not truly and fully exist.”

Schmitz also argued that the for-profit sector could at least receive the same application of the accommodation issued in the non-profit sector. He writes, “contraceptives will be ‘seamlessly’ provided to employees of non-profits in a way that does not impinge on the consciences of employers. Say, though, that the administration’s claims are made in good faith: Why not provide the same ‘seamless’ accommodations even to for-profit corporations?”

Despite the administration’s accommodations, it is evident that there are a number of religious, non-profit and for-profit objectors. Having rejected the proposal, it is up to the American bishops and other conscientious objectors to respond. The problem remains: How are the objectors to respond in a way that can bring about a greater protection of their religious liberty?

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia had this to say.

“One of the issues America’s bishops now face is how best to respond to an HHS mandate that remains unnecessary, coercive and gravely flawed. In the weeks ahead the bishops of our country, myself included, will need both prudence and courage – the kind of courage that gives prudence spine and results in right action, whatever the cost. Please pray that God guides our discussion.”

Read the full article here.

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