Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Religious Freedom Revisited

U.S. Constitution

Last month I shared an article about the ruling in the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case that was before the United States Supreme Court. In that particular case the Supreme Court ruled that a church had the freedom to fire an unwanted minister even if it was only for religious reasons. Those reasons are usually not valid reasons to be fired for a job but the Court realized that there is an exemption from those rules when it came to ministers in a church.

Justice Roberts wrote:

"We agree that there is such a ministerial exception. Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs."

It may seem like a very cut and dry situation but it seems that some college campuses do not think so when it comes to group membership and so far the Supreme Court has agreed. In the last two weeks the State University of New York at Buffalo and Vanderbilt University (ironically founded as a Methodist school) have told on campus Christian organizations that they cannot require their leaders to hold to their statement of faith. According to a World Magazine article:

"The student-led governing board (at SUNY Buffalo) put InterVarsity on suspension in December, after someone complained that one of the group's leaders felt pressured to resign his position because he was gay. Senate members voted to lift the suspension temporarily so that the group could meet to revise its constitution, approving at the same time a new fiscal suspension that prevents InterVarsity from spending any of its $6,000 student activity fee budget.

"A lawyer advising the Senate told the students that InterVarsity could not, under the U.S. Constitution, require its leaders to agree to any statement of faith or beliefs. But the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on campus religious groups - CLS v. Martinez - only forbade statement of faith requirements if a school had an "all-comers" policy, which would require all groups to be open to all people."

The Supreme Court has ruled that if a school has an "all-comers" policy then no requirements can be placed upon any group. It seems a bit hypocritical to allow churches to have a religious belief exemption when it came to who they hired and fired but not allowing campus ministry groups to do the same. But there are deeper ramifications for these types of policies. They cut both ways as a article points out:

"Now a similar rule is being implemented on the campus of Vanderbilt University. But this time a Christian professor is pointing out that under the same rule, Christians would be allowed to join an organization of atheists or Muslims and exert influence.

"(Carol) Swain (Professor of Political Law at Vanderbilt) said that the university has put itself in an awkward position. If officials say that Christians cannot join an LGBT or Muslim group they will be in violation of their own policy. But allowing Christians to join these groups means they can effect change in their agendas."

But so far Vanderbilt has not put it's policy in writing and has even been contradictory as to what the policy is going to include:

"According to Justin Gunther, president of Christian Legal Society at Vanderbilt, a member of the administration said in public that if members of a Christian group were to use religious motivation as a basis for not voting for an officer, it would be in violation of the university’s policy.

"The statement contradicted statements made that evening by (Provost Richard) McCarty who said members could use any criteria they wanted when voting, as long as everyone was given an opportunity to run for the position."

What will be interesting is to see how these rules by the various universities look in their final form. There will undoubtedly be some legal ramifications as well. But the most telling aspect of this is Vanderbilt Provost McCarty's statement that faith views should not be imposed upon others. Of course that rule doesn't apply to the University or it's Provost. They are free to impose their faith views however they see fit.

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