Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"A new bigotry with moral pretensions"

Universities and colleges are already among the most intolerant of places, although that intolerance is justified as being in the interest of tolerance — college students being such delicate flowers that they require protection from views that might cause them discomfort. Yesterday the Supreme Court — in the interest of preventing discrimination — has decided that public universities may discriminate against religious groups with unpopular convictions unless those groups permit membership for, and leadership by, "all comers," including those who disagree with the group's organizing purpose. Hadley Arkes predicted the likely consequence of the decision before it was rendered:
.... If the Christian Legal Society loses, the lesson drawn from the case is likely to be the one that proved to be decisive even though it was never fully argued: that it was indeed legitimate to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and that it is legitimate for law schools and colleges and universities to make a moral insistence on that rule even if it means virtually pushing off the campus, and stamping as illegitimate, any groups that proclaim openly the orthodox teaching of Christianity and Judaism that has been woven into the life of this country from its beginning.

That prospect is at once staggering and yet quite real, and it is not to be dismissed out of hand. We have already seen the inclination to deny standing and legitimacy to Christian groups at Tufts University and other places. No one with any familiarity with elite schools in the East can doubt that this rejection of the seriously religious is already in the air. At my own college, Amherst, the new students often are counseled to free themselves from any inhibitions on plunging into a sexual life happily free of commitments. And they usually are instructed with a moral severity to recede from any objections to the homosexual life.

The message to the religious is, in short: You had best be silent, or be careful about mouthing your objections. For you must understand, at the outset, that your moral outlook is not respected here. One of my students posted on his door a sign that ran a bar through the words “same-sex marriage.” He was warned, by his resident adviser, that he was coming near the edge of an actionable offense. His offense was to express in public a view held by most of the American people on a matter of controversy in our current politics.

The Supreme Court may produce, in the case of the Christian Legal Society, a decision suitably qualified, narrowed, muffled. But if it comes down in favor of the law school against the students, we can expect that decision to be trumpeted and amplified. We can expect that the “best” schools will lead all others in claiming a high moral stance as they purge Christian fellowships from the recognized life of colleges and universities. And we can expect that this lesson, taught from the most prestigious schools, will ripple outward, spreading widely in the land: a new bigotry with moral pretensions—an animus to religion driven by a religious passion but serenely detached, now, from both revelation and reason. [more]
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