CA Universities Do Have a Discrimination Problem — Just Not the One They’re Addressing

By George Yancey Published on July 3, 2016

California legislators seem to think that religious discrimination is a problem in colleges and universities in their state. A bill sponsored by state senator Ricardo Lara is intended to address the problem by limiting and shaping the teaching, housing, student conduct, hiring, admissions and even bathroom policies of Christian colleges in California. You see, Senator Lara believes the religious discrimination problem is limited to religious schools.

It’s too bad the senator hasn’t taken time to find out what’s really going on with religious discrimination. There is indeed discrimination going on. There’s plenty of solid scholarly evidence available on it — and if he had bothered to look at that research, he would have known that his proposed legislation misses the mark.

If he’d looked into it, he would have known that professors in secular schools who are social conservatives tend to wind up in lower status jobs, regardless of their academic accomplishments Check out the chapter on “The Vanishing Conservative,” for example, in The Politically Correct University:Problems, Scope, and Reforms (AEI Press, 2009).

Had he cared to look, he might have known that a University of Colorado surveys indicates it is Protestants, not atheists, who are less likely to feel welcome on college campuses. The findings in that study are in keeping with other work indicating significant levels of discomfort experienced by Christian students in secular university settings.

Yes, and I’d have to say that if he truly cared about religious discrimination on campus, he would have read my own research on academic bias (Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education, Baylor University Press, 2010), which indicated that almost half of professors consider it appropriate to discriminate against conservative Christians. Very few, in contrast, were willing to discriminate against sexual minorities or atheists.

Now, Senator Lara might claim that he is only interested in policies that are overtly discriminatory, not de facto discrimination of this sort. If that’s his answer, then surely he would also have no problem with voter ID laws or restrictive immigration policies either, since they, too, are not overtly discriminatory — though they have disparate impact on people of color. If however he does have a problem with those policies despite their lack of overt racism, then it would be fair to expect he would want to address the discrimination against conservative Christians research has uncovered.

Surely, if he cared about reducing discrimination, he would support some sort of affirmative action policy whereby California colleges and universities would seek to hire conservative Christians. He would endorse programs to expose the microaggressions that create an unwelcoming environment for conservative Christians. If he cared enough about religious discrimination to look at what’s really going on, he would realize that his failure to do these things would be hypocrisy.

The senator says he is concerned about religious discrimination at California colleges and universities. But I see no record of him addressing the real religious discrimination taking place on campus. He did not seem bothered when Christian groups were kicked off campuses for the unimaginable crime of wanting their leadership to be Christian. He has put forth no proposals to address the de facto occupational discrimination against conservative Christians in academia. In fact, the only time he has seemed interested in religious discrimination has been in proposing this legislation, which would further punish conservative Christians. It’s as if his goal is to make religious discrimination worse, not better, at California colleges and universities.

Of course maybe he’s just been too lazy to do his homework. Maybe he’s been operating off a mistaken impressions instead of reading up on the latest research, so he doesn’t appreciate the true potential effects of his proposed legislation. Even now, though, maybe there’s someone pointing it out to him so he can see the errors of his ways. And surely, once he realizes that academic religious discrimination in California is directed primarily against conservative Christians, not in their favor, he will change his tune and retract his current proposal. Right?

But then there is also the possibility that he doesn’t actually care about academic religious discrimination at all. It could be that his legislation is actually intended to force an anti-Christian agenda upon everyone, including Christians themselves — an agenda to reject true multiculturalism and instead punish those who reject the values and tenets of the secular subculture he belongs to.

Of course such an attitude would make Senator Lara a religious bigot, which is as far as you can get from being legitimately concerned about religious discrimination. Indeed, this is the kind of thing you get from someone who would actually support religious discrimination, provided that it advanced his personal goals and social ambitions.

Senator Lara’s actions on these matters over the next several weeks will demonstrate what he really believes about religious discrimination. Indeed, the California legislature’s action on his bill will reveal whether the state is run by men and women who prize religious freedom, or by those bent on religious bigotry.

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