The University of Wisconsin is currently in the middle of a public-relations nightmare of the first order. It has completely botched the Kevin Barrett case. First, it gives Barrett the privilege of doing something that he has no right to do: teach 9/11 conspiracy theories in an Introduction to Islam Class. And now, when this ridiculous decision naturally causes a firestorm of controversy — and the media demand for Barrett grows — Wisconsin warns him not to seek publicity. As Ann Althouse notes: ”The problem is not confusion about whom he speaks for, but the embarrassment to the university that he thinks what he thinks and he teaches here.” It’s almost as if the university is telling Barrett, “We’ll give you a captive audience to spread your absurd theories, but please don’t tell anyone!”
But that’s not Wisconsin’s only problem. At the exact same time that they are enduring a public relations beating for the sake of protecting Barrett’s non-existent right to teach his theories, it has been violating the actual rights of Christian students on a large scale basis. On July 10, the Seventh Circuit issued a hugely important decision holding that universities could not use their expansive nondiscrimination policies to prevent religious student groups from using religious principles when selecting members and leaders. In other words, Christian groups could take steps to ensure that they remain Christian. Wisconsin is in the Seventh Circuit and is bound by this decision.
So what does Wisconsin do? It immediately derecognizes the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic student group that has been a recognized student organization at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 30 years), it refuses to recognize InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and it continues to apply its expansive nondiscrimination policy to other Christian student groups at UW. We have written a letter to the UW system president (among others) demanding that the university protect the fundamental First Amendment rights of its students. He has until August 10 to respond.
How typical. Universities will go the extra mile to protect the non-existent ”right” of radical professors to teach theories that are not germane to the subject of a course but then deny real rights to Christian students. Where is the marketplace of ideas?