My good RNS buddy David Gibson delivered himself of a little snark this morning in re: that “campus PC virus shutting down Christian groups because they want their leaders to be, well, Christian. I mean, that’s outrageous. Right?”
As Michael Paulson reviews the situation today’s New York Times, the issue has to do with the right of institutions of higher learning, public as well as private, to insist that sponsored student organizations adhere to the institution’s non-discrimination standards. Their position is based the Supreme Court’s decision in Christian Legal Society (2010), which permitted the University of California’s law school to deny recognition to a student religious group that excluded gays. It’s evangelical student groups that don’t want to go along.
Most of us would, I think, agree that colleges and universities should be able to deny sponsorship to religious groups that discriminate on some grounds — if not against gays then against African-Americans or Asians. On the other hand, some sponsored groups necessarily discriminate: You don’t get to belong to an honor society just because you want to.
So is a Christian who wants to be president of the campus Hillel more like an African-American who wants to become Grand Dragon of the campus Ku Klux Klan or a C student who wants to join Phi Beta Kappa?
We can debate that till the cows come home, but here’s the thing. Just because a college insists that the Christian in question must be able to run for Hillel president doesn’t mean that the members have to elect her. Indeed, they’re entitled to vote for someone else on the grounds the he is, you know, Jewish. Likewise, if a Jew wants to run for secretary of the campus Maranatha Bible Study Group, a Christian can run against him based on her embrace of the Apostles Creed.
On the other hand, if the members of Maranatha want the Jewish guy or the members of Hillel want the Christian gal, so be it. Actually, this year one of the members of the student board of Trinity College Hillel was a non-Jew, who was presented at our last Friday night services with a “Righteous Gentile” award.
What we’re really dealing with here, in other words, is a symbolic struggle. Some evangelical student groups would like to receive sponsorship — financial subsidies and free use of facilities — while establishing a priori faith criteria. They want the institution to sponsor them as a species of church. But short of that, they’re free to conduct their affairs as they see fit. Is that so outrageous?