‘The Protest Season’ is Becoming an Assault on Religious Freedom on Campus

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on December 12, 2015

Traditionally considered the Christmas or at least the Holiday Season, John Leo, editor of the delightful website Minding the Campus, has come up with a new term for the current time of year on college campuses: “the protest season.” As he describes it,

… students at a growing number of colleges and universities are listing their demands. Many of them are want to expand the campus diversity bureaucracies, curb free speech to stop microaggressions and anti-protest remarks, and impose mandatory social-justice training for students and faculty. … Particularly concerning are calls for speech codes demanding punishment of constitutionally protected “hate speech,” mandatory trainings requiring students to voice agreement with certain ideologies (compelled speech), and rules about what faculty cannot, or must, teach.

Family Research Council’s core mission does not involve the reformation of higher education, but we are committed to a society in which robust expressions of religious conviction not only are allowed but celebrated. This means college campuses where students not only are permitted but encouraged to discuss and live-out their deeply held religious beliefs.

Such interaction should also be part of the normal pattern of university academic life. To this end, writing in the cover story of September’s Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt argue thatstudents should … be taught how to live in a world full of potential offenses. … A greater commitment to formal, public debate on campus — and to the assembly of a more politically diverse faculty — would further serve that goal.” This means hearing and discussing religious views different than one’s own.

Dr. Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, last month made an even stronger claim: that in the normal course of the college experience, students need to be prepared for disagreement, challenge and the “iron sharpening iron” intrinsic to the environment of the world of knowledge and ideas:

Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place,” but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up! This is not a day care. This is a university!

These things have a particular bearing on the way religious belief is expressed by students among themselves and also by Christian ministry groups and politically conservative professors on secular campuses, whether private or public. Here are just a three examples of how the oppressive milieu of America’s campuses is playing out with respect to religious liberty:

  • Criminology professor Dr. Mike Adams’ seven-year quest to vindicate his First Amendment freedoms concluded with a settlement in his favor (in July 2014). In March, a federal jury ruled that the University of North Carolina-Wilmington illegally retaliated against Adams when it denied him a promotion in 2006 because of his conservative views. … A former atheist, Adams frequently received accolades from his colleagues after the university hired him as an assistant professor in 1993 and promoted him to associate professor in 1998. Since his conversion to Christianity in 2000, the university subjected Adams to a campaign of academic harassment that culminated in the denial of his promotion to full professor, despite an award-winning record of teaching, research, and service.”
  • Bowdoin College, one of America’s elite institutions of higher education, has now ‘banned a local lawyer and his wife from leading campus Bible studies with students after the couple refused to sign a non-discrimination agreement they say violates their Christian faith.’ For nearly the past ten years the couple, Rob and Sim Gregory, has been volunteers with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF). They have been told they will no longer be welcome on Bowdoin’s campus after May because of their commitment to the Bible’s teaching that sexual intimacy is reserved for a heterosexual couple within the covenant of marriage.”
  • “On October 10, 2012, Gallaudet University President Alan Hurwitz announced the suspension of a senior employee for supporting the right of the people to support traditional marriage. Dr. Angela McCaskill, a 23-year veteran who earned the school’s first Ph.D. as a deaf African-American woman, was suspended for supporting Maryland’s Question 6, a state referendum supporting Marylander’s right to vote on marriage definition. At an October 16 press conference, McCaskill said she felt bullied for participating in the democratic process. ‘It’s been very hurtful,’ she said, ‘because I have nothing but love and support for everyone. And to have this tarnishing my name, my reputation, my character, it hurts.’ After three months, Gallaudet University reinstated McCaskill. On January 7, 2013, President Hurwitz released a statement to students and faculty, saying he was ‘appreciative’ of the campus’s ‘willingness to consider the differing views others may hold.’ Asked by a reporter if she had a message for those who don’t welcome her return, she said simply, ‘I’ll pray for them’.”

Professors and students alike are at risk in collegiate settings across the country. In a striking op-ed , I Should Not Write this Op-Ed: Confessions of a Non-Leftist Professor, Dr. George Yancey, professor of sociology at the University of North Texas, wrote last month here at The Stream that “if we are going to have an inclusive campus then non-leftist academics have to be allowed to play a role in it. They cannot have their jobs threatened because they make comments, or support perspectives, some students do not like. Those who do not want to take the interest of such professors into consideration should no longer claim that they want inclusiveness or diversity. They only want to include those they agree with. In that they resemble the stereotype of the intolerant Christian fundamentalists they so often lampoon.”

Whether from students, faculty or staff, we must not mistake self-pity and an unhealthy and artificial sense of grievance for genuine woundedness. Whininess should not strike terror into the hearts of “compassionate” administrators. Rather, committed religious faith that animated the founding of many of the institutions that now reject it should be welcome, not shunned. And degree-granting schools should be places where respectful and principled disagreement is part of the very purpose of their institutional existence.

Fascism should be dead everywhere, but especially on America’s campuses. Why isn’t it?

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