Free Speech Still Cool on Campus, Religious Freedom … Not So Much

Two prominent universities publicly affirm their commitment to free speech; some state legislatures debate whether a Christian campus ministry can restrict its leadership to those who hold Christian beliefs.

What about freedom of association? In California, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove introduced the California Freedom of Association Act as a response to—in the words of Assemblyman Tim Donnelly—“an all-out assault on religious liberty and the right to associate freely on California college campuses.” California’s public universities have forced Christian campus ministries either to embrace non-Christian leaders, or leave campus.

 

(WNS)–Two prominent research universities have publicly affirmed their commitment to free speech, even as state legislatures debate whether a Christian campus ministry can restrict its leadership to those who hold Christian beliefs.

Princeton University recently followed the University of Chicago in adopting a statement that rigorously affirms freedom of expression. Princeton professor Robert P. George, writing in First Things, specifically thanked Princeton mathematician Sergiu Klainerman, who spearheaded the effort.

“I am proud of my colleagues, the vast majority of whom voted in support of his motion,” George wrote.

Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, chaired the faculty committee that crafted his university’s report. Its statement offers specific examples from the university’s history to bolster the committee’s claim that “the University of Chicago’s long-standing commitment to this principle [of free and open inquiry] lies at the very core of our university’s greatness.”

Princeton and Chicago are clear: Universities have obvious and profound obligations to support, encourage, and protect free speech, even when the clear and easy expression of ideas causes discomfort—or blatant offense. Princeton holds that “it is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” Members of the university community thus “may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”

What about freedom of association? In California, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove introduced the California Freedom of Association Act as a response to—in the words of Assemblyman Tim Donnelly—“an all-out assault on religious liberty and the right to associate freely on California college campuses.” California’s public universities have forced Christian campus ministries either to embrace non-Christian leaders, or leave campus.

Nate Honeycutt, a graduate student at San Diego State University, recently told The College Fix that “Christian organizations have been the ones essentially targeted.” In a statement, Grove appealed to the “persecuted political and religious groups” who have found a safe haven in America’s right to freedom of association: “These rights are protected outside the university setting among our churches, political parties, non-profits, and advocacy groups, so why not give these same freedoms to our college students within our public universities?”

California has not cornered the market on controversies over religious freedom on college campuses. In Missouri, State Rep. Elijah Haahr sponsored a similar bill, and according to his colleague, State Rep. Justin Alferman, about 35 other states have similar bills already.

But the two sides in the controversy find little room for agreement. In debate over a similar bill in Kansas, State Sen. Forrest Knox said, “This is an anti-discrimination bill,” because it prevents universities from discriminating against students on the basis of their sincerely held religious convictions. Tom Witt, a gay activist, couldn’t disagree more. “To have that paid for by the taxpayers is absolutely wrong,” Witt told The Wichita Eagle. “We’re giving college kids a license to behave badly in the name of religion.”

© 2015 World News Service. Used with permission.