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Another interesting story connected to religious dialogue and religious freedom on campus came up this week. (If you missed it, here’s the rundown of the recent Supreme Court ruling against a college ministry in Northern California.)
This week’s news involves the University of Illinois firing a prof for sharing the Catholic teaching against homosexuality. The especially pertinent fact of the issue at hand, however, is that the professor teaches religious courses – specifically, an intro to Catholicism, which provided the context for his comments.
Notably, the University of Illinois is now reviewing their firing of this professor. It will be interesting to see what they decide to do.
The Chicago Tribune reports,
Chancellor Robert Easter has asked the University of Illinois’ Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure to determine whether the university violated the academic freedom of adjunct associate professor Kenneth Howell by barring him from teaching classes on introduction to Catholicism and modern Catholic thought.
Howell, who has taught on the Urbana-Champaign campus since 2001, was barred last month after explaining during class why the church believes that homosexual behavior violates natural moral law. He elaborated later in an e-mail to students, which lawyers say circulated around campus and prompted complaints.
For more, here are some links you might find helpful:
U of I to Review Removal of Religion Professor – from the Chicago Tribune
Alliance Defense Fund remarks on the issue, including links to a couple of other cases from around the country
U. of I. Too Quick to Fire Catholic Prof, an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times
U. of Ill. to Review Catholic Instructor’s Firing, the AP story as carried by the Tribune
In case you’re coming for the follow-up to yesterday’s post on how to road trip, I needed to put that on pause to fill you in on this week’s adventures. Sorry about that – look for further tips this weekend or next week!
I’m headed to Arkansas today! I’ve been graciously invited to give a seminar at Campus Ministry United’s annual summer conference, held at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. This was one of several conferences I attended on the yearlong road trip, so it kinda holds a special place in my heart. It’ll be good to be back.
I’ve also been really looking forward to my theme: I’ll be speaking on Better Brainstorming, a very practical topic I’m pretty stinkin’ passionate about. If you can, please pray that I’d be effective and encouraging – not just in my seminar on Saturday afternoon, but in the rest of the time I get to hang with the men and women at this conference. I really appreciate it!
(And if you know anybody who might like to hire me for something like this – or a whole host of other ways to make use of my learnings – check things out here!)
are you in the group?
It’s a good time to note: If you didn’t realize I was headed to Arkansas, you probably aren’t in the Exploring College Ministry with Benson Facebook group. It’s definitely the place to get the best low-down on news like this. And there are chances to help me out; members of the group have been helping me figure out some connections to make and things to enjoy on the drive to Arkansas today!
Finally, in case you’re wondering, this does not count as an official Exploring College Ministry Road Trip. (So Number 15 is still to come!) Though I’m perfectly happy to be on the road again, this is just a straight-there, straight-back, one-state-away sort of trip. Not exactly worth comparing to the more humongous explorations.
some good reading for our field
I did want to point you to two newsworthy items you should check out:
Scot McKnight discusses the younger generation “falling away”: In reviewing a new (cool-looking) book, McKnight examines this notion as a potential myth, and College Ministry has entered into the Comments section. So if you’ve got something helpful to say (pro, con, or otherwise), add your two cents!
Alec Hill, President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, looks with concern at CLS v. Martinez: This is another place that could use wisdom from college ministers! Add to the comments if you can, but this is yet another good resource for better understanding this important Supreme Court case. (And if you need to catch up, my recent post on it is here.)
The several links at the bottom are the main purpose of this post. I’d encourage you to have at least a working knowledge of this case, since nobody’s really sure how it might show up on YOUR campus this fall or in the future.
Because of the holiday, I’ll see you next on Tuesday – so take some time with this one if you can!
The Supreme Court’s decision this week against the claims made by the Christian Legal Society at Hastings College of the Law was a very important decision for a field, in no small part because Collegiate Ministry has very few cases of settled law to point to.
In case you haven’t been keeping up:
- Hastings (a public law school) has established a policy requiring all officially recognized student organizations allow any and all students to participate at any position.
- The Christian Legal Society has official members (unlike most college ministry groups), and it requires these members to abide by certain practices and hold certain beliefs.
- Therefore, Hastings would not allow CLS to become an official student organization (though it did allow it access to the campus, etc.).
For now, it’s also important to note that…
The complete case hasn’t, in fact, been settled. The litigation is going back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in order to test the claim that Hastings inconsistently applied its rule (that kept CLS from being allowed as a recognized student org). As the case proceeds, the importance for the rest of us seems to be how definitively Hastings will be required to follow its own rule (called in many of this week’s articles an “all-comers policy”). If in the weeks or months to come it becomes abundantly clear that
- this “all-comers” rule must apply equally to all groups on the campus (i.e., that all groups must allow all students access to all positions, even if those students are hostile to the purposes of the group),
- that many groups are thereby threatened by a potential “takeover” or simply interference from hostile students,
- and/or that the policy at Hastings is indeed very unique among public colleges and universities,
then the rest of us may not be much affected. In fact, it seems the more clarity on this, the better; my largest concern is not that campuses will faithfully apply this ruling, but that they’ll incorrectly apply this ruling in an overreaching way.
Again, it’s important to recognize that the ruling was narrow, directly testing whether a college ministry was, in fact, running afoul of a very specific, unusual policy. The dissenters (it was, after all, a narrow 5-4 vote) went after the rule itself as absurd.
So for more, some of the items you might find most helpful:
Still perhaps the best for a solid, easy-to-read analysis: Christianity Today’s extensive, balanced, and very helpful synopsis, which I linked the other day.
InterVarsity’s press release on the decision (with links to more) – IV seems to have dealt with more such cases in recent years than anybody, so it’s especially helpful to hear their take
Vikram Amar’s academic look at why and how the Supremes reached their decision – really helps understand the workings of the court, regardless of whether you agree with the author’s thoughts on the decision
Adam Goldstein at the Huffington Post likewise examines the Supreme Court’s process here, but unlike Amar above believes the decision “sucker punches the First Amendment”
David Opderbeck wrote about the case at the Jesus Creed blog awhile back; now he and others have several careful reflections at their Law, Religion, and Ethics blog (and regularly dialogue with each other in the comments), starting with Robert Vischer’s original reflection here.
This week at Jesus Creed, lawyer “T” shared thoughts on the decision; as often happens at the Jesus Creed blog, many comments ensued too!
Hastings College of the Law’s own (brief) statement is here; also see PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly’s interview (from April) with the Dean and Acting Chancellor of Hastings, a fascinating look at how Hastings claims the policy can and should be applied
Alliance Defense Fund on what the ruling did and didn’t do, and where things go from here
As you may have heard, the Supreme Court decided against the Christian Legal Society at California’s Hastings College of Law. But the decision actually seems to have been quite narrow, because the rule in question was in fact quite specific.
Hastings has a rule on its books mandating that no campus organization can limit its membership or leadership, even around its statement of beliefs. The Supreme Court yesterday upheld this rule, which keeps the Christian Legal Society from becoming a recognized student organization because of its ban on homosexual members.
As Christianity Today’s excellent summary noted,
The majority opinion, issued by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said that Hastings College of the Law’s “all comers” policy, which required all groups to open all positions to all students, “is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the student-organization forum.” The Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter at the University of California school, Ginsburg wrote, “seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy.”
However, some commentators are pointing out the very important fact that the rule at Hastings is specific to Hastings. And if, in fact, it turns out that Hastings allows some groups to “discriminate” in membership but not others (as CLS has argued), then all this could be moot anyway. The case now travels back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to address that very issue.
Further, perhaps Hastings would even be persuaded to amend its own rule, if various other organizations realize how problematic this ruling could actually be. If any organization must allow any member to take place in any conceivable way, then it seems that all groups could lose their “groupness.”
As for the rest of us, there’s room for both hope and concern. On the one hand,
“It’s unlikely [that other universities will adopt the rule Hastings has], because an all-comers policy by and large defeats the purpose for which state universities allow student organizations to be created and recognized by the educational institution,” [Carl Esbeck, University of Missouri constitutional law professor] told CT. “Namely, that like-minded people can band together in an association or organization and thereby have not only common reinforcement among themselves but also have a greater voice because they’re speaking as a united group.”
But on the other hand, things like this can embolden both schools and students who are already inclined to make things more difficult for Christian campus ministries. So even if rules are created or actions are taken that actually run afoul of the Justices’ narrow decision here, it could take years for everything to get sorted out. That’s the way these things can pan out “on the ground,” as organizations and people are liable to overcorrect. (Of course, that could easily have happened in the other direction if the decision had gone the other way. I’m just noting the concern.)
I encourage you to take a look at the Christianity Today article, as well as Inside Higher Ed’s, which has several additional links. Inside Higher Ed has also promised complete coverage today, so that would be very worth looking at.
In case you’re wondering, the scale up there is at Xavier University!
Here’s an update on the ongoing Brothers Under Christ suit against the University of Florida. This is interesting news, and I just received it in an email last night (since I’m a BYX alum).
UF originally denied the local chapter status as a student organization because of a requirement for members to be Christians. (Beta Upsilon Chi / BYX is centered on “cell groups” as they work to “establish brotherhood and unity among college men based upon the common bond of Jesus Christ,” so they feel members of this unique community should be Christians.) Oral arguments before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals took place in December.
(My original post describing all this is here.)
Based on what BYX is reporting, on January 15th UF sent a motion to the court indicating that they have met BYX’s requests and asking the court to dismiss the suit.
However, BYX has chosen to request a ruling (instead of accepting the dismissal). Based on what BYX national leadership wrote the alumni tonight, they have made this choice for the following reasons (presumably while working closely with their representation):
- They feel the arguments given last month went really well, and they feel this request by UF evidences that fact.
- The university could reverse its policy changes in the future if a ruling is not handed down.
- A ruling in BYX’s favor would require the university to pay the fraternity’s legal fees, which obviously helps the Christian Legal Society representing them.
- A ruling in BYX’s favor would establish precedent for both future Brothers Under Christ chapters and other Christian organizations.
I do know that some people feel national precedent of this kind is needed for college ministry as a whole. Many similar cases elsewhere have simply been settled out of court, which (when favorable) can be great – but it doesn’t necessarily stop future problems from occurring.
Still, this is obviously risky on the part of Brothers Under Christ, since the justices could decide against them.
I don’t know enough about this case to make a judgment call on the merits, etc., but I did want to report. If you know more, feel free to comment. And however it ends up, this could definitely impact American college ministry.
Since we’ve already had two posts on college ministry legal issues in the past week, I figured I would include one more.
Those familiar with Collegiate Ministry are probably most aware of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship‘s multiple legal fights. For them, the issues have tended to center on IV’s requirement that their student leaders agree with their faith statement.
During my trip, one InterVarsity guy (who has been around for awhile) made an interesting point. These cases have generally been reconciled (in IV’s favor) out of court. While the individual victories are certainly helpful to those InterVarsity chapters involved, he pointed out that the establishment of a precedent (in court) might ultimately be necessary for long-term, widespread resolution of the issues at hand.
As I said yesterday, people may have different takes on the merits of such cases. That’s okay. But it does seem to me that in order to practice (most forms of) Christian college ministry, lines of belief and practice have to be drawn at some point.
Anyway, in case you’re interested, here are some links to various InterVarsity cases:
A lengthy Chronicle of Higher Education article discussing InterVarsity’s problems at Tufts University and Middlebury College. In both cases InterVarsity chapters refused to allow homosexuals into leadership positions. (This was written while both situations were current.)
A year later, the discussion of what happened in the Tufts case, described at Christianity Today with several other good links.
InterVarsity’s summary and links for a recent case (2006) at University of Wisconsin – Superior. InterVarsity’s lawsuit was eventually withdrawn after an agreement with administrators, who actually changed part of the school’s policy as a result.
A story on Ralph Thomas, IVCF’s legal counsel from 1993 to earlier this year.
[I posted an update about this case on January 31st, 2009.]
While at Texas A&M, I had the privilege of joining Beta Upsilon Chi, also known as Brothers Under Christ. (The Greek initials are BYX, prounounced “Bucs.”) BYX now has 23 chapters in 11 states.
Those guys – well, specifically the brothers in the University of Florida chapter – are in a pretty big legal battle to become a recognized student group. As a Christian fraternity that focuses on small groups (the core of BYX is “cell group” accountability and discipleship for every member), they restrict membership to Christians. However, this apparently runs afoul of the University of Florida‘s religious discrimination rules.
In July, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary injunction against the U of F, allowing BYX to operate on campus this semester. But tomorrow, the case will actually be argued at the 11th Circuit Court at 9am.
Whatever your stance on the merits, this is an important case for college ministry, since it can be a precedent for future trials. Even though most of our college ministries are “open” ministries (allowing non-Christians to participate at some level), there will still be a lot to watch regarding the decision – including its wording and the “whys” involved in the decision.
To send a note of support: admin -at- betaupsilonchi.org.
Meanwhile, if you’re interested, here are things they suggested people could pray for!
- Tim Tracey of the Christian Legal Society, as he argues the case for Beta Upsilon Chi
- the judges who are hearing the case
- the chapter members at Florida, who have been enduring this for 18 months
- safe travel for the members from other chapters and national staff who are traveling to the hearing
- that this might be the end of the case, if that’s what the Lord wants
- most importantly, that Jesus would be glorified in our words and actions.
[I posted an update about this case on January 31st, 2009.]
As always, ’tis the season for fights over the propriety of Christmas displays in our freedom-of-religion nation. There have been some spillovers onto campuses, so here are a couple of news stories if you’re interested.
Even if you’re not particularly interested, the bolded article below (from Inside Higher Ed) gives a good, factual, brief run-down of some of the legal question, etc. Good for catching up on the issue quickly.
In November, the admins at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers, Florida, banned Christmas decor in public “common areas,” as well as their traditional greeting card contest. They also renamed a charitable “giving tree” for little kiddos a “giving garden.” (Here’s the article from the Ft. Myers News-Press.)
Somehow the story got some big national attention – I think it ended up on the Drudge Report, which can always lead to a media snowball. So, after an onslaught of criticism, the Pres of FGCU has now reversed his decision (reported at Orlando’s News 6).
Inside Higher Ed has a really good run-down of the whole debate and the implications in an article titled, “Christmas Wins Another Round.”
No Tree at UNC
However, this one is reported on Drudge now, too. So… we’ll see what happens there.