Religious Freedom on Campus

For the past few months, students have been descending on dorm rooms nationwide—settling into a new rhythm of life at public colleges and universities. Many of those incoming students expect that life on campus will consist of an intellectual, and even spiritual, awakening.

For Christians, however, the reality is often more of a rude awakening, especially for those desiring to live out and express their most deeply held beliefs through campus clubs, free-speech events and training in their chosen fields of study. Today, many public (and even private) colleges and universities are decidedly hostile to the religious freedom Christian students might otherwise expect on campus.

Campus Conflicts

Consider just a few recent examples of academia’s hostility towards students of faith:

  • Graduate-level counseling program students Andrew Cash (Missouri State University) and Julea Ward (Eastern Michigan University) were expelled from their respective state-run schools for they would like to politely refer homosexual couples to other therapists for relationship counseling.
  • Ryan Rotella, a junior at Florida Atlantic University, declined to participate in a class exercise in which his professor directed students to write “JESUS” on a piece of paper, and then stomp on it. His professor suspended him from class and told him not to come back.
  • Emily Booker, who was studying to become a social worker at Missouri State University, objected to her professor’s class assignment requiring her to write to state legislators urging passage of homosexual adoption laws. School officials threatened to withhold her degree if she refused. 

But that’s not all. At some universities, Christian clubs have been required to abandon their rules regarding moral conduct and even their leadership requirement of professing Christ, or lose their campus privileges. Campus groups holding events involving religious or moral issues such as abortion have been denied “permits” for speakers, or relegated to miniscule “speech zones” away from foot traffic. Other events are hindered by imposition of large “security fees.” “Speech codes” abound that prohibit “offensive” speech—like the Gospel. Government agencies also have been attempting to impose morally objectionable sexuality rules on Christian schools.

So how do you, as students and parents, stand firm against the prevailing campus winds?

  • Know your rights. The First Amendment protects the freedoms of speech and religion from burdensome government interference. Public colleges and universities are government-owned and -controlled facilities, so students have constitutional rights those institutions cannot trample. Some states have beefed up those constitutional protections by also enacting laws further guaranteeing that students’ rights are respected. And:
  • Know where to find help. Cash, Ward, Rotella and Booker ultimately won the right to speak and live out their faith on campus without being penalized for it, as have many other students and clubs in the face of hostile college policies and administrators. They succeeded because they enlisted the help of free-speech organizations and public interest law firms that are dedicated to protecting the rights of students and other people of faith.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION: To learn more about these issues and where to find help, visit http://bit.ly/2vFOXn0.

Originally published in the October 2017 issue of Citizen magazine.
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