religious liberty

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)

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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Follow Nathan on Twitter @NathanHarden

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.