It is tough not to admire the campus Left’s mental agility. Over the past few decades, we have seen the architects of the free-speech movement become the authors of speech codes, and those who formerly glorified dissent clamp down on campus with a mind-numbing level of intellectual conformity. Scientific inquiry is welcome, unless it results in tough questions about possible innate gender differences. Open debate is the hallmark of the academy, unless of course that debate intrudes into areas where policy should be settled and morality decided (like when dealing with race, class, gender, war, peace, and sexuality).
Given the remarkable ability to reinvent its position on the free-speech clause of the First Amendment (from protesters to censors), it was only a matter of time before the Left began to rethink the religion clauses as well, especially the establishment clause. “Separation of church and state” has been a battle cry of the hard Left for many decades, but what if the Left ran the state — or at least dominated an important state agency? Would the Left remain dedicated to this allegedly bedrock principle?
In the university context, the answer is clearly “no.” Faced with large and active religious student groups who are often engaged in public debate over the Left’s currently fashionable civil-rights issue — homosexuality — public universities simply cannot restrain themselves. They are taking sides, not just politically, ideologically, and culturally, but religiously.
Take this official statement from the Georgia Institute of Technology (in its so-called “Safe Space” training manual):
Many religious traditions have taught, and some continue to teach, that homosexuality is immoral. These condemnations are based primarily on a few isolated passages from the Bible. Historically, Biblical passages taken out of context have been used to justify such things as slavery, the inferior status of women, and the persecution of religious minorities.
Displeased that the State of Georgia is comparing those who hold traditional religious views of sexuality to slaveowners? At least Georgia does not make religious conservatives look as, well, silly as the University of Michigan does:
Some texts of the Old Testament are used to condemn homosexuality. Taken literally and out of context, Biblical passages can be used to justify slavery, prohibit the wearing of red dresses, and eating of shrimp and shellfish, and to reinforce the inferiority of women.
So there you have it. At Michigan, religious conservatives are not only like slaveowners and misogynists, they also are as contemptible as those philistines who dislike Benetton’s fall line.
But as any student of religion knows, abstract theological statements and insults of religious opponents are not by themselves enough to change hearts and minds. You also need good old-fashioned testimonials, like the following from the University of Texas:
Former youth activist Jamie Nabozny was raised Pentecostal and hoped to become a minister. But he was gay and thought the only worse thing he could be was Satan himself. So he tried too put his same-sex attractions aside until, one day, he could deny them no longer.
“I walked as far as I could into a big field. I was crying, praying and hollering at God. I said, ‘I’ve read the Bible, I’ve prayed, I go to church three times a week. Every time I have a homosexual thought, I rebuke it in the name of God and yet still I’m gay. Either you’re not there, or you don’t give a damn that I’m gay.’ It took me a little while but then I realized God was OK with it. The god I really believed in was not a God that hated or condemned people.”
This is an experience some people go through. Faced with a conflict between their religion and their feelings, they come to realize that the God they truly believe in could never condemn people for loving.
To put this state religious activity in context, it must be compared to the most famous leftist establishment-clause case of this decade: The Dover, Pennsylvania, Intelligent Design litigation. In that case, the national media and the campus Left fretted over the coming dark night of theocracy because a school board required science teachers to read a brief statement that said “Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.” Oh, and the nefarious statement also said, “With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.” The horror.
So, with respect to a debate over the origins of life, a statement asking students to “keep an open mind” and noting the existence of an alternative view is just too coercive. But when the debate involves sexual morality, it is just fine to compare conservative Christianity to the theology of slavers and to pontificate on the nature of the “God they truly believe in.” Censorship is now acceptable to the free-speech champions of the Sixties, so it only makes sense that those who drove God from the public square are setting up state-run Sunday schools. Mental agility is a wonderful thing.
– David French is a senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). ADF is challenging Georgia Tech’s Safe Space Training program in federal court.