My colleague, David French, remembers September 11 in this post today.
To borrow a Texas custom, we should all tip our hats to the officials at Texas A&M University. Why? Because they chose to honor the First Amendment rights of their students instead of following the misguided lead of most other public universities in America.
Almost every public college and university in the country currently requires student organizations to abide by a nondiscrimination policy in order to receive and maintain official recognition status. These policies forbid student organizations from discriminating against potential members based on a number of categories, including race, sex, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation. Most would see this as a laudable effort. But the inherent flaw in such policies is that they bring a one-size-fits-all paradigm to student organizations that leaves little breathing room for the First Amendment.
Let me demonstrate. We would all answer affirmatively if asked whether a public university has the authority, and indeed the moral duty, to prohibit a student club from rejecting African-Americans from becoming members. But when a student organization is formed to promote certain ideas and beliefs, should the university have the power to force that group to accept persons who dissent from the group’s belief system? Most universities confidently answer, “Yes,” on the grounds that they need to prevent all discrimination on campus. This profound and bold-sounding response, however, is demonstrably wrong. Why? The First Amendment provides the answer.
The First Amendment guarantees the freedom to join with others to form organizations, advance particular viewpoints, and to associate with like-minded individuals around a core of beliefs. This freedom of association strengthens our cherished rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. Thus, when a group of college students decides to form an organization to advance a set of beliefs, they are employing their freedoms of speech, association, and–in the case of religious groups–exercise of religion. Although the university has broad authority to regulate the conduct of such student organizations, this authority must stop where the student group’s First Amendment rights begin.
So, where is this line in the context of nondiscrimination policies? It lies at the intersection of status and belief. The university can stop status-based exclusions unless the protected status is belief-based, as in the case of religion. What sets apart a member of a certain religious group is not some visible, immutable characteristic, but rather, a set of beliefs. When a university forbids a religious organization from selecting its membership based on religion, the university is essentially dictating what the organization can believe. The First Amendment condemns this type of government compulsion.
Texas A&M grasped this principle after engaging in discussions with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, and allowed the student organization, Freshmen Leaders in Christ (FLiC), to continue its mission of training Christian freshmen to become Christian leaders. By working with ADF and responding to the needs of its students, Texas A&M has made the First Amendment feel quite at home in College Station. If only other universities were so welcoming.
Camille Paglia writes this today about the problem of indoctrination in higher education:
But affluent middle-class Democrats now seem to be complacently servile toward authority and automatically believe everything party leaders tell them. Why? Is it because the new professional class is a glossy product of generically institutionalized learning? Independent thought and logical analysis of argument are no longer taught. Elite education in the U.S. has become a frenetic assembly line of competitive college application to schools where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it’s invisible. The top schools, from the Ivy League on down, promote “critical thinking,” which sounds good but is in fact just a style of rote regurgitation of hackneyed approved terms (“racism, sexism, homophobia”) when confronted with any social issue. The Democratic brain has been marinating so long in those clichés that it’s positively pickled.
In any campaign, logistics represents an essential, though often overlooked, component of victory. While Napoleon once quipped that “an army marches on its stomach,” a corollary of this principle holds true for the ADF Center for Academic Freedom: defending liberty requires funding. Thus, we are thrilled and grateful to announce a recent $9.2 million grant to support our efforts to defend the free speech and religious freedom rights of university students and faculty. With ADF matching this grant, just under $20 million—the largest effort of its kind ever—will be directed to defending the rights of university students and faculty and to eradicating unconstitutional university policies. This historic gift positions us to challenge university speech codes, to ensure that Christian and conservative student organizations can operate on campus freely, and to eliminate ideological litmus tests for students and faculty. While this grant should serve as a warning for universities, it should also reassure students that the Alliance Defense Fund and the ADF Center for Academic Freedom are committed to defending their freedoms over the long term. In a nutshell, thanks to the generosity both of those behind the grant and of those who will help us meet the match, the Lord has graciously allowed us to expand our efforts to restore the marketplace of ideas and to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel on campus.
Update: David French, the Director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, recently appeared on The Michael Medved Show and on Moody Radio’s Prime Time America to discuss this unprecedented grant and what it means for Christian students and faculty members.
It is an insight into the obvious to say that student speech is no longer limited to the classroom or campus quad, since increasing numbers of students are turning to the Internet to express their ideas. Administrators have taken note. With the Proliferation of blogs and social networking sites that allow students to post their thoughts (even streams of consciousness) online, campus administrators are stepping up their efforts to monitor this expression. In so doing, they are extending the long arm of their student codes of conduct to punish student expression—not just on campus, but online.
For example, Johns Hopkins University investigated a student for posting an “offensive” Halloween party invitation on his Facebook profile last year. FIRE has been on the case, but so far, the university has persisted in its investigation.
Likewise, a high school in Connecticut punished a student for venting about school policy on her blog. The student sued and the district court held that her speech disrupted the school environment, even though there was little evidence that students actually knew about her blog rant. That case is now on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and you can bet money that university attorneys are watching closely. Free speech advocates are also watching—see the amicus brief recently filed by Student Press Law Center.
Contrary to their oft-advertised commitments to free speech, universities love to cite primary and secondary school case law that takes a limited view of students’ constitutional rights on campus. This limited view of students’ rights coincides with their views on “diversity” and desire to create a “utopian” (read: single-minded) campus community.
So what is a college student to do? Stop posting invites to your student club meetings on Facebook and Twitter? Shut down that blog discussing pro-life issues? Absolutely not—continue speaking out on issues that are important to you. The First Amendment protects your right to express your views, via the Internet or more traditional means. And if administrators come knocking at your dorm room door because of your expression, contact the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.