Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Althouse and Discrimination


Ann Althouse has written a brief response to my post regarding Wisconsin’s decision to defy controlling law by denying recognition to Christian student groups who wish to maintain Christian leadership and/or membership. Specifically, Ann has noted that my comparison of Wisconsin’s willingness to grant Kevin Barrett a classroom platform for his conspiracy theories with the university’s unwillingness to grant basic free-speech and association rights to Christian groups is not precise. True enough. Kevin Barrett’s desire to teach conspiracy theories is not the same (and does not involve the same legal doctrines) as the Christian groups’ desire for recognition. I did not argue that they were the same.


The purpose of the comparison is quite simple: to illustrate that Wisconsin’s commitment to free speech and the marketplace of ideas is uneven, at best. On the one hand, Wisconsin is willing to give a radical professor more rights than the law requires in the name of “academic freedom.” On the other hand, Wisconsin appears to be willing to give Christians fewer rights than the law demands.


Why the difference? Why does Wisconsin go the extra mile for Barrett but is willing to defy the courts when dealing with Christian groups? The answer lies in the second part of Ann’s post, where she dismissively notes that the Christian groups are ”discriminating against other students (while Barrett is not). In the “tolerance” and “diversity” based university world, the cardinal sin is discrimination. Universities are willing to put up with vast amounts of nonsense — and will even endure great public scorn to protect the dissemination of that nonsense — but they have no patience for discrimination. Christian groups can be excluded because discrimination allegedly violates fundamental university values.


But does it, really? To call an action “discriminatory” is uninformative. It is discriminatory to admit individuals with higher test scores and to deny others. It is discriminatory to charge higher tuition to out of state residents. It is discriminatory to prevent women from playing football. It is discriminatory to prevent those with profound vision problems from taking flying lessons. It is discriminatory to keep women out of men’s restrooms and men out of women’s restrooms. I could go on an on. It is simply false for a university (or anyone else) to say that they are against “discrimination.” Discrimination is just another word for making a choice. To say that a university wants to end “all forms of discrimination” is to utter propaganda. They don’t mean what they say, and they know it.


The real issue is the kind of discrimination. In this case, we are dealing with a kind of discrimination that preserves the ability of each and every expressive organization in the United States to protect the integrity of its unique message — the ability to exclude those individuals who do not agree with the group’s purpose. Dissenters are free to organize their own groups, but they may not destroy their competitors through hostile takeovers or through dilution. A series of ideological twists has enabled campus activists to transform nondiscrimination policies originally designed to protect religious individuals (no one can argue that prohibitions against religious discrimination were enacted for the purpose of preventing Christian groups from using their religion to select members and/or leaders) into blunt instruments that destroy free association.


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