Tagfreedom of religion

A Modest Win for Freedom

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a baker in Colorado who declined to create a wedding cake for a gay couple. The couple had filed charges with the Colorado state Civil Rights Commission, which ruled in the couple’s favor, leading to various appeals that brought the case to the United States Supreme Court. By a decisive 7-2 majority the Court ruled that the Colorado state Civil Rights Commission displayed “clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs” of the proprietor of the bakery.

What was never at issue in this case (or the many others like it) was whether the baker should serve homosexual customers. He had done so many times before. What this businessman objected to was using his creative skill to decorate a cake for an event that defied his religious convictions, namely, a same-sex wedding. Yet despite this clear distinction, the press has generally framed this as a case of anti-gay bigotry, as in this New York Times headline-

I prefer this headline (equally as factual) from The Babylon Bee

This is satire.

Nevertheless,  I bet that right now many of you still can’t see the difference between anti-gay bigotry and freedom of conscience. So let me offer three illustrations.

Imagine that you are a Jewish baker. You have many customers who come to your shop to grab pastries and desserts, which you gladly sell them to make a living. Imagine that one of your regular customers comes in and asks you to decorate a large cake for an event. You ask for details, and she explains that there is a gathering of  Holocaust skeptics that she’s responsible for catering, and wants you to decorate a cake for it. You may or may not have known she was sympathetic to this outlook, and for that matter, she may not have known that you were Jewish.

Should the state be able to compel you to use your talents to provide a cake for this event?

Now, imagine that you are a Muslim baker, living and working in Las Vegas. Every morning a woman comes by the bakery to grab breakfast, which you gladly sell to make a living. Over the course of time, you learn she is a prostitute who works for one of the legal brothels in Vegas. But she’s a paying customer, and while you disagree with her lifestyle, you are not in any way complicit with her immoral behavior by selling her a cupcake. Imagine, though, that one morning she comes in and says that her brothel wants you to decorate a cake celebrating the tenth anniversary of the brothel, an event that is obviously at odds with your religious beliefs.

Should the state be able to compel you to use your talents to provide a cake for this event?

Finally, imagine you are a Christian baker, and among your regular customers are a couple of gentlemen who always come in together. You gladly serve them as paying customers and even develop a casual friendship with them. But then one day they come in to ask you to decorate a cake for their wedding. Because you hold to the orthodox Christian position on these matters, you must explain to them that while you appreciate their business and friendship, you cannot in good conscience use your artistic skill in connection with an event that is profoundly at odds with your religious beliefs.

Should the state be able to compel you to use your talents to provide a cake for this event?

Some of you absolutely believe so. I hope that the Court’s decision will make you rethink just how radical your position actually is. Because if the state can compel the bakers in the three examples I just laid out to do business or close shop, then the rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech are in grave peril.

I get that some of you don’t care about freedom of religion. You are thoroughly secular, and you believe Orthodox Judaism, mainstream Islam, and traditional Christianity are just artifacts left over from a primitive and ignorant past. So as far as you’re concerned, religious scruples are always silly and often bigoted, and the state should not countenance such convictions for a moment. America’s robust legacy of freedom of religion is nonsense to you.

But there is an underlying issue here that you should care about – freedom of speech. If you believe the government has the right to force the bakers in the three examples I gave to decorate the cakes for the events I proposed (or close shop), then what you are saying is that the government can compel its citizens to say things that are contrary to their beliefs. Compelled speech is not free speech.

And if the state has the power to coerce other people to say things they don’t believe, it has the power to compel you to say things you don’t believe. So the issue here is ultimately not just about religious liberty. It is about liberty – period.

And thankfully, yesterday the Court ruled in favor of freedom.

The Grim Future of Private Religious Schools (and Some Ideas)

A few weeks ago the small private liberal arts school I attended and taught at began a project to build a new student center. This meant that the old student center had to come down. I have to admit that I was very sad as I stood at the demolition site and snapped this picture of the ruins of a building that held such special memories.

But what concerns me far more is the future of schools like the one I attended. Part of my worry has to do with the declining enrollment problem facing all colleges. The pool of high school graduates in America has been steadily declining for some time, and it is estimated that this trend will continue through 2030. Because of these deflated numbers, analysts predict that as many as half of the colleges and universities in the country could close their doors in the next 10-15 years.

But the general demographic trend is not the greatest source of my anxiety. I am especially concerned about the future of private religious colleges. Schools like the one I attended and taught at typically have codes of conduct that reflect the religious beliefs of the institution. Such codes often include specific language about moral issues like sexual conduct.

And therein lies the problem. There is a growing climate of hostility in America to the traditional Christian view of sexual ethics. There is no better way to illustrate this increasing anti-religious bigotry than the recent New Yorker column lamenting the “infiltration” of Chick-fil-A into New York because the owner has donated to pro-traditional marriage causes. (For some great satirical responses to this article, check out this Babylon Bee piece and this blog post).

And the assault on religious freedom is only going to grow stronger. Multiple polls demonstrate that the “Millennial” generation does not hold a robust view of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. A 2015 Pew Research survey revealed that “four-in-ten Millennials say the government should be able to prevent people publicly making statements that are offensive to minority groups.” A 2017  Brookings study found that 44% of college students do not believe that the First Amendment protects “hate speech.” And since the pro-LGBTQ movement believes that any statements defending traditional marriage or critiquing same-sex actions constitute “hate speech,” you can see where this mindset will lead. I’m no prophet, but I will make this prediction: within my lifetime there will be a serious movement to repeal the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. And if you don’t believe me, check out this video.

At the moment, private religious schools are permitted to maintain these codes of conduct and still receive federal money because of our nation’s strong commitment to religious freedom. Such schools can apply for what’s called a “Title IX Exemption.” This is why private religious schools can maintain their status with government accreditation agencies, which is crucial in order for students to receive federal grant and loan money such as I relied upon to go to college.

But this exemption is under assault. Schools that have applied for this exemption are accused of perpetuating “the harms of religion-based bigotry.” And it is clear that the pro-LGBTQ lobby intends to strip this protection of religious freedom away from such schools, a prospect that the government’s solicitor general admitted during the Obergefell case. That leads me to another prediction: the next Democratic administration will strip the Title IX exemption of its power to protect the religious freedom of schools.

Let me pause to address the issue of “religion-based bigotry” before I go further. Some of you may think that codes against same-sex conduct are no different than codes against interracial dating and marriage that many schools of a previous generation enforced. But the two issues could not be more different. One has to do with conduct, the other has to do with race. A school that says that sex is reserved for the one man-one woman relationship of marriage is not bigoted against gay students. The code applies to all students, gay or straight. Whatever the person’s orientation, the same rule applies to everyone’s conduct. Such a rule that has to do with behavior is totally dissimilar with a rule that has to do with race. Sadly, many schools did have such racist rules, and the fact that those sinful and hateful rules are now being used to club all adherents of traditional morality over the head is reason #2,182 not to be a racist if you are a Christian.

All of this means that the “dark clouds of Mordor” are growing more ominous by the moment. If this exemption is taken away, then the federal government will be able to threaten schools with the loss of accreditation unless they change their codes of conduct. Those schools that refuse to bow the knee to Baal will lose accreditation, and with it all federal loan and grant money for students. Additionally, students who graduate with unaccredited degrees may find it hard to be hired, especially if the company is “woke” to progressive social causes. This will be the end of many private religious schools.

So, what to do? How can private religious schools navigate between the Scylla of falling enrollment and Charybdis of federal decertification?

It will be a mistake for schools to search for mere short-term solutions. Yes, you can temporarily inflate enrollment numbers by adding sports teams, with the incoming revenue stream of federal loan and grant money for which many athletes qualify. But when (not if) accreditation is lost, this money will vanish overnight. Nor will it help to look for cost-cutting measures with faculty salaries and benefits. The last thing a small school needs in these troubled times is a demoralized faculty and staff. Nor will it help to address the problem with cosmetic changes to the campus. This will not be sufficient to address the demographic shift of available high school students.

Instead, here are some things these schools can do:

  1. Schools should wean off all federal money, including student grant and loan money, as soon as possible. As Carl Trueman has written, “Given the financial significance that the federal student loan system has for most colleges, this process will be painful and difficult for many, where it is possible at all. Yet it is vital.” Schools should use the next two years as a reprieve and phase out all programs that are unsustainable without this money.
  2. Schools should look for students from non-traditional sources. While the number of high school graduates is falling, there are many other potential student populations. Instead of waiting for students to come to campus, the campus needs to go to the students, with on-line and hybrid course offerings, extension and satellite campuses, and other such options. The on-campus population may decline, but the overall student population and revenue stream can grow.
  3. Schools should create job placement networks for their students. Schools like the one I attended have a tight-knit network of alumni. This is the perfect situation for collecting databases of alumni and friends of the school that can post job openings for students. Imagine the power of recruiting a student who knows that when he or she is finished with classes, the school will actively seek to set them up with a prospective employer. This can ameliorate the stigma of a non-accredited diploma.

And even if it should be the case that private religious schools do not survive, there is still hope. And the fact is, families and churches should not totally delegate responsibility for rearing children to such institutions to begin with. If these schools, which are adjuncts to the home, no longer exist, our children can still flourish in the faith, so long as we do our job. But it would be a shame if future generations did not have the opportunity that my wife and I enjoyed to receive an education in a faith-affirming environment. There are challenges ahead, but they can be met with resolve, imagination, and love.

 

“The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You” – the Brazen Attack on Religious Freedom Continues

Professor Amy Coney Barrett

News coverage of Hurricane Irma obscured the growing threat of another kind of storm in our country, the subversion of religious liberty. Last Wednesday, Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a nominee for the federal appellate bench. Senator Diane Feinstein quoted from a journal article Professor Barrett wrote some time ago in which she and her co-author discussed under what circumstances a Catholic judge should recuse herself from a death-penalty case (given the objections held by many devout Catholics regarding capital punishment). Feinstein remarked:

“Dogma and law are two different things. And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.”

“The dogma lives loudly within you.” Continue reading

A Peek at the Future of Religious Freedom

Tim Farron

If you would like to see the future of religious freedom in America, take a peek at Great Britain. The UK was once a vibrantly religious country – now, faith is on the wane there. As America follows the same trend toward secularism, we can see what awaits our society by looking at what is happening to our cousins across the Atlantic. And that brings me to the story of Tim Farron. Continue reading

Assimilate or Pay the Price

“Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” –The Borg in Star Trek

Last Thursday the Washington state supreme court issued a chilling ruling against religious freedom. The case in question involves a Baptist florist named Barronelle Stutzman. For years she provided service to two homosexuals, Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed. But when the men decided to marry and asked Stutzman to do the flowers for their wedding, she deferred, recommending several other florists in the area. The couple then sued, along with the ACLU and the state of Washington. Stutzman lost, and her last hope is that the US Supreme Court will hear her case and defend her rights. Continue reading

The Gorsuch Nomination – A Temporary Reprieve

Picture from The Denver Post online

Yesterday the President nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. By all accounts, Gorsuch is a highly qualified nominee, possessing the skills and temperament needed by a Supreme Court justice. His nomination will be fiercely contested in the poisonous atmosphere of Washington politics, of course, but that is to be expected.

From what I have read about Judge Gorsuch, his track record of decisions indicates he possesses a robust view of religious freedom. His opinions – ranging from the Hobby Lobby case to the Andrew Yellowbear case – reveal a firm commitment to defend the free exercise of religion from governmental intrusion. And as a Christian concerned about the growing threat to religious liberty in America, I am thrilled with this nominee. Continue reading