Thursday, January 31, 2013

Discrimination? Not On My Campus!

One of the Christian student leaders at my university posted a link today to a Fox News article about a Christian group that was supposedly "kicked off campus". I love the colorful rhetoric employed in the headline: "kicked off campus". It's as if security shut down their worship service and told them to take their Bibles and be gone to wander alone in the Ypsilanti wilderness. As you might suppose, this is not at all what happened and, as as is to be expected, Fox News and other religiously oriented news sources are blowing this out of proportion.

The situation has been framed as a discrimination issue, which is ironic considering what actually happened. Here at the University of Michigan, we have an anti-discrimination policy. It's pretty straightforward; student organizations that are sanctioned by the University must be inclusive to all people regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. All of a student organization's policies and activities must adhere to University policy or the University will not recognize them. There are plenty of benefits to being a recognized student organization; RSOs are elligible for funding, facilities and resources from the University that they would otherwise have to provide themselves. Following the rules is a very small price to pay for the sanction that the University provides.

Enter the InterVarsity Christian fellowship. This Christian student organization on campus had the signing of a statement of faith as a requirement for leadership in the group. It seems obvious that a Christian group would have Christian leadership, but the requirement in black and white that leaders MUST be Christian violated the University's anti-discrimination policy. The University asked them to change their policy and they refused, meaning that they are no longer recognized as a student organization at the University of Michigan. The result is of course a projection of the image of martyrdom.

Clearly, this is senseless. Both in the article and in the comment section, it was heavily implied that the Christians were being discriminated against. One Facebook commenter who has since requested anonymity proposed a scenario in which a Christian could walk into a "Secular Student Association" meeting wearing a John 3:16 t-shirt, get mocked and kicked out and then told to suck it up by the same people who accused the Christians of discrimination. He finished the screed by suggesting that it "would be great" if that hypothetical student used that hypothetical situation as grounds to sue the school. This is utter poppycock. Our "Secular Student Association" actually was asked to amend our own constitution last year because it didn't meet University standards. We did so. There is no reason on earth that removing a signed profession of faith from the requirements would hurt the organization. Even if a non-Christian did want to run for office in that club, no one would vote for him/her. The InterVarsity Fellowship's decision to defy their superiors was made out of pure stubbornness. Being reprimanded for not abiding by the same rules as every other group is NOT discrimination.

There seems to be a disturbing trend in evangelical America of mistaking the lack of special rights for Christians for persecution. It's not that prayer is not supposed to be in schools, it's that we "took prayer out of" schools. It's not that we are gradually becoming a nation that does not elevate one belief over another it's that "Christian values are under siege" in America. Christianity has long been a dominant power in America and theists still hold much residual privilege. One of my officers told me that she has been advised to keep SSA volunteer work off her resume so that it will be easier for her to find a job. I doubt any of the Christians in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship even had to think twice about putting their community service work with their church or their mission trips on their resumes. No one ever says to them "you believe in jesus... but you're not really a Christian, are you?" It's not normal for them to have their morality and their humanity questioned as soon as someone hears that they believe in a god. No matter where they go in the United States, they can commune with people of similar belief. The same can't be said of nonbelievers.

In an almost ironic twist, atheist groups on campuses are actually concrete examples of groups that ARE forbidden or have been forbidden in the past simply on ideological grounds. We're fortunate to go to a University that doesn't discriminate based on religion. We are a subset that policies like the this one exist to protect. That being said, I don't begrudge this Christian group for making such accusatory remarks against my school. I wish them all the best as they attend the worship meetings of their choice at one of the 20 other Christian clubs on campus.

5 comments:

  1. I'm not being obtuse when I ask, So could a Christian join the secular student alliance? Could that person become and officer or president - in theory of course?

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    1. We actually have two Christians who are members of our group and who come regularly. Both of them meet the meeting attendance requirement to become officers and could run if they wanted. I don't know if they would, but they wouldn't be barred from trying. :)

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  2. Hey, while I appreciate the mention of my name (quite the shock when I checked my own name on google), is there any chance you could remove the mention to my name? I ask kindly for now. Realistically, I'm not sure it's proper procedure for a blogger to post full names of people they run across without consenting permission, really feels like stab in the back and it also feels like it might be illegal.

    You caught me while I was bullshiting a hypothetical situation. Knowing quite a few members of a local secular club, I know well enough that unless the leader of the club were to strictly say, or if your SSA guidebook strictly says, a Christian who is open about his faith not in name alone would be mocked. Now, I don't think I insinuated that he would be formally kicked out, but the ostracizing that would result simply would place the Christian into a position that would prevent him from adequately taking part in the SSA discussions. Which, from the few SSA meetings I've watched on youtube, tend to be really circular discussions with parliamentary procedure. Unless the Christian actively sits back in discussion, he will definitely "grind gears" with members of the SSA.


    Needless to say, a strawman is going to be a strawman, but he can also wear a "god without god" shirt that he bought from the Richard Dawkins Foundation and carry his copy of "gOD is not Great" with him on a daily basis.

    Not sure what you can do about the name, since I'm guessing your blog traffic isn't all that much, but it would be great if you could remove my name. (in turn, removing this comment, because I reveal it to be my name. doh!)


    Thanks for reading this.

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    1. Out of curiosity, how is what she did illegal? Public comment on a public forum.

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    2. Seeing as I have no desire to offend, I have removed your name. I'm not sure whether or not you were aware of this, but your full name appeared publicly in the comment section of the article. As such, I was simply citing a source. There is nothing wrong or illegal about it, as nothing I said here was libelous.

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Please be civil. :)