I attended a conference Wednesday at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., home of good folks and good stuff: Arnold Palmer, Mister Rogers, the banana split, and Rolling Rock beer. The conference, entitled “Religious Liberty and the State,” was the work of the Center for Political and Economic Thought, a liberty-based program headed by Brad Watson. The conference addressed such important matters as the confused and excessively broad interpretations of Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state” conflicting with the clearer language in the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”)
One exchange really drove home the importance of establishing such conservative or libertarian “beachheads” as the Center on campuses. Rusty Reno, the editor of First Things, had finished up his talk on how religious liberty has been twisted by secular progressives to mean freedom “from” religion rather than freedom “of” religion. In the Q & A period, two students waxed incredulous that Reno could not see that Christianity was a close-minded and obsolete institution; Reno stood his ground and won the day by insisting “that religious people are among the best prepared to engage the world in an open way because they’ve committed themselves to an openness to God, which turns out to be the hardest thing for the self-enclosed ego to do.”
The second student tried to respond to Reno several times, but could only express an inarticulate denial of Reno’s position. In doing so, he demonstrated how liberal students are often cheated out of an education by the liberal establishment – it was painfully obvious that he was not used to having his beliefs challenged. It is by having their beliefs challenged at every turn that conservative students get more educational bang for their buck. The liberal student should write out a special tuition check to the Center for confronting him and exposing his intellectual flabbiness.