Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Karen Swallow Prior has a must-read in The Atlantic about California State University’s recent decision to derecognize Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Advocates of religious liberty who haven’t been living under a rock for the past year will find her arguments familiar yet refreshingly direct and simple.

Prior makes a compelling case that by prohibiting Christian student groups to choose their own leaders (eg, only selecting actual Christians as group leaders), universities that follow Cal State’s lead are hindering their own pluralistic project. She notes the remarkable inconsistency in claiming that, while fraternities and sororities must discriminate membership based on gender in order to merely be what they are, religious groups should not be allowed to frame such an identity. This very well may, Prior writes, result in student groups whose  members express beliefs outside the mainstream of the university culture. But that is precisely what diversity means:

Even in an increasingly secular culture, distinct and diverse faith communities continue to exist and thrive. Because religion plays a significant role in American public life outside of the university, it should be represented within the microcosm of educational institutions. Public universities in particular have an obligation to reflect and foster both the diversity of the students they serve and the public that pays their bills. Removing clubs that are predicated on religious practices limits students’ exposure to the diversity they will face outside academia, a diversity that is both a strength and challenge of American culture. The tolerance, humility, and patience that are needed for this kind of pluralism are ideal qualities to encourage in students, as well as all citizens. These qualities are essential for students’ “moral formation”—a concept that may seem passé in today’s culture, but has traditionally been the hallmark of higher education.

In other words, in order to secure a student body that walks in lockstep conformity to certain values (homosexuality and same sex marriage, for instance), a university must make a conscious choice to abandon a culture of diversity, pluralism, and intellectual exchange.

While reading Prior’s essay I couldn’t help but think of recent comments by New York Times columnist Josh Barro, who publicly called for all traditionalism in matters of homosexuality to be “ruthlessly stamped out.” This simply is not the language of progress, but of fundamentalism. Contemporary progressivism is not an inclusive ideology, but an insular orthodoxy. When Christian bakers are told that surrender of their conscience is the “price of citizenship,” or conservative parents are given the burden of proving why their children shouldn’t be in a school that enables cross-gender restroom access, pretense of liberality has been abandoned.

If same-sex marriage is to become a legal reality nationwide, let it be because an elected government reflects the wish of the majority. Let it be because the citizenry is truly convinced by argumentation debate. Only let it not be because those opposed were disqualified from appearing in the marketplace of ideas.