Within a day after the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit to protect the rights of a Christian fraternity at the University of Georgia, the school reversed course, recognized the fraternity, and pledged to study its policies. While this is all good news, and UGA’s president, Michael Adams, should be commended for his quick action, he did make one troubling statement. At a press conference, he made the following observation regarding the suit:
I’m going to put my Christian hat on for a moment — I think there are ways that Christian people are supposed to be able to solve problems without litigation,” he said. “Let’s see if we can find enough common ground to both ensure no one’s religious rights are abridged and secondly that the university ensures that people are not being discriminated against.
While this all sounds so reasonable, it plays into a common guilt trip repeatedly inflicted on religious students. Aren’t religious students supposed to be nice? Aren’t they supposed to get along with everyone? How does litigation advance the Christian witness? By asking questions like this, universities deflect attention from their own failings and ignore the bureaucratic black hole that sucks in the vast majority of all student complaints. How, exactly, does a student complain about a constitutional violation? You can search the student handbooks of virtually every public university in the country without finding the answer to that question. When administrators deny fundamental constitutional rights, it is not the students’ fault if they believe that the administration will speak with one voice. Nor is it the students’ fault if they want to avoid the agonizingly slow and vague bureaucratic process that so often flows from even informal complaints.
Here is the bottom line: It is not only the university’s responsibility to protect the constitutional rights of students, it is also the university’s responsibility to create clear, speedy, and effective avenues of appeal and redress when students believe their rights are violated. The fact that students appeal to the courts — as is their right and as the Apostle Paul did when faced with illegal persecution — is evidence of their courage and conviction, not of any spiritual or moral defect.