Trinity College Hillel

Trinity College Hillel Trinity College Hillel

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?”

Let’s see.

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?

Categories: Institutions

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

6 Comments

  1. I read the NYT’s article and many of the comments and was surprised at the number of people agreeing that it was wrong to “ban” religious groups based on their religious beliefs. The nondiscriminatory policy makes a statement about the university and it’s philosophy and is applied uniformly. The fact that the only group refusing to agree is the evangelical Christian group is in keeping with the “war on Christianity” we keep hearing about. Why is it that when evangelicals are made to follow the same rules as everyone else or equally share air time or a platform with other religions or atheists, they claim persecution, discrimination, “war on Christianity”, or that their freedom of religion has been violated?

  2. “Christians” are so perscuted by America today that they demand, and are usually given exemptions to the constitution that says in many different ways that all are created equal but must be given equal treatment. No, the so called Christian organizations are given exemptions so they can discriminate in everything from hiring workers to denying membership in any of their clubs etc. Really perscuted but the Christians scream bloody murder if anyone from the SCOTUS on down demands that they treat others with equality. NOT very Christ like is it? But, that’s Christianity today and I am so proud of the Christians for standing up, just like I’m sure Christ would, for their right to discriminate against others based on anything from color of skin to sexual orientation and everything in between. Sarcasm very much intended and I’m truly disgusted at the gullibility of the sheepole congregations and the lust for money by most of the well known Christian leaders we see and hear from. God to them equals money and more money and if the money isn’t coming in we’ll make up another “cause” to bring it in. Gotta love that money. Just like in Christ’s day. How sad that not much has changed in 2,000 plus years.

    • Lynne Newington

      I’m really surprised about the Evangelicals considering their “love” for Pope Francis…….a Christian [although in the early day's before I became a Catholic there was a separation between the two terminologies].
      Why there’s even a snapshop of him on his knees in submision being “prayed over” by some Evangelical pastor with the Franciscan papal household preacher Cantalamessa with his hands outreached praying over him too, praying in tongues no doubt..
      It’s all about politics as far as I’m concerned.

  3. samuel Johnston

    A friend has a son at Claremont McKenna College. He reports that ethnic, religious, and other student groups, are open to all who have an interest in learning about the traditions and customs of that particular group. The Hispanic group is very popular among the non-Hispanic students, as are the Asian groups etc.
    How wonderful that a scholastic community encourages learning and sharing traditions instead of bickering defensively about “rights”.

  4. In this particular case, it was a desire to “discriminate” in picking bible study leaders within a particular Christian student group. By Mark’s logic, their banishment could be avoided (and their desire for qualifications maintained) if the student group elected their bible study leaders. Since they espoused a welcome for anyone to attend their meetings, study groups and worship events, the only area of contention was who would lead these gatherings. So, even if a Buddhist student wanted to be designated as a bible study leader (an interesting experience, IMHO), they may legally be “weeded out” by the student members electing their study group leaders from a slate open to everyone.

  5. samuel Johnston

    ” ‘weeded out’ by the student members”
    This is really wrong headed, especially for the students. A while back I was in a Buddhist study group lead by a Jew(ess). When I prepared a course of study on Greek philosophy, I started my class with the reading of a critique of Western/Greek thought, by a Hindu professor.
    Do we want learning or indoctrination?

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