02 Feb Can Religious Freedom Prevail?
Across the nation in several public universities and colleges, students and professors are being denied their right to conscience: the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action. This is particularly in regards to any resistance toward homosexual behavior, but it also extending toward a conscientious objection to abortion.
The good news is, in these cases – unlike in the business world – students and professors are beginning to win in and out of the courts.
A prime case is that of University of Illinois professor Ken Howell. Howell was dismissed for informing students enrolled in a class on Modern Catholic Thought via email and in preparation for a test that “the Catholic Church holds that homosexual acts are immoral”. He further suggested that homosexual acts violate the natural moral law, though he freely allowed that there are other viewpoints. He was accused by an anonymous student of hate speech, dismissed from his professorship and fired as director of the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center’s Institute of Catholic Thought. In the end, the outcry at the dismissal of this very popular professor ultimately proved sufficient to force the university to reverse its position, the university administration capitulated only reluctantly and without any public acknowledgement that it had violated Howells’ academic freedom.
Other recent cases include: In 2008, a biology professor at San Jose City College was dismissed for indicating—in answer to a student’s question about how heredity affects sexual orientation—that environment might be a cause of homosexuality. In 2010, Hasting College of Law denied official recognition and funding to the Christian Legal Society as a student organization (the first time it had ever denied a student organization recognition) because the group required officers (not its members) to affirm Christian sexual ethics, including the scriptural proscription against homosexuality.
In 2009, a student was expelled from a counseling program at Eastern Michigan State University for refusing to affirm that homosexual behavior is normal and acceptable. In 2005, a student in a counseling program at Missouri State University found that the university had filed a grievance against her for refusing to fulfill a class assignment requiring her to write a letter to the state legislature advocating the legalization of homosexual adoption. And in 2011, a counseling student who dared to voice her opinion in class that homosexual acts are immoral learned that Augusta State University would not let her continue her academic program unless she successfully completed diversity-sensitivity training.
These cases may seem daunting. But, like the case of Professor Howell, these cases are winning in and out of courts. Just this past week, the counseling student from the 2009 Eastern Michigan University dismissal, prevailed in the 6th circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The court concluded:
A university cannot compel a student to alter or violate her belief systems based on a phantom policy as the price for obtaining a degree…. Why treat Ward differently? That her conflict arose from religious convictions is not a good answer; that her conflict arose from religious convictions for which the department at times showed little tolerance is a worse answer.
We’re getting some good precedent for future court cases, and that’s very good news for religious liberty and freedom of conscience in America.