Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

College is a place where students are expected to be asked questions, lots of them in fact, on many topics. But one wonders if there are some questions too intrusive and personal to ask.

University of Kentucky Health Services found the answer earlier this month when it abruptly halted a questionnaire after portions were published in Campus Reform, a national college newspaper. Under the pretext of “helping better serve the LGBT community,” UK Health Services solicited responses to assertions including: “The idea of gay marriage seems ridiculous to me,” “Homosexuality is a mental illness,” and “Homosexuality is a sin.”

It’s not clear how such questioning would help improve health services to the LBGT community, but it is likely that dredging deeply held personal beliefs on religion and sexuality in a politically sensitive age creates a chilling climate for social conservatives. Doctor: “So I see you have strained ligaments in your elbow. Is that from picketing gays with the Westboro Baptist folks?” Student: “Nah, it’s just from a very lengthy writing assignment from my Introduction to Queer Theory class.” (A real class taught at UK). Doctor:  “Oh, good. In that case we can treat you.”

Is it really necessary for UK Health Services to know the political and religious views of a student before treating a cold or bandaging a wound?  At what point has such questioning crossed a line? Even the $5 gift card wasn’t enough to entice some students to participate because of confidentiality concerns. One UK student who wished to remain anonymous told Campus Reform “I don’t know who is reading this. I didn’t want to be labeled as a bigot because of my personal religious beliefs.”

The growing hostility toward religious conservatives on campus is deeply troubling. In 2011, UK settled a religious discrimination lawsuit against Martin Gaskell who was denied a job to lead the astronomical observatory because he was a  “potential evangelical.”  In 2012, University of Louisville was poised to kick Chick fil-A off campus after CEO Dan Cathy’s opinion on marriage hit the public airwaves.

The latest flap comes from Stanford University where a student group was denied funding for their conference called “Communicating Values: Marriage, family and the media.” Jeffrey Cohen the vice president of the LGBT student group called GradQ, called the conference “an echo chamber of hate.”  Brianne Huntsman, an employee at the Stanford LGBT student center, said such views brought on campus are “unsafe” and “their message is very much bigotry.”

Welcome to the new tolerance.

Since when has the university become a monolith of thought where intellectual discussion of important issues is considered a threat?

What goes on in the university eventually makes its way into the culture, which brings us to Brenden Eich and the sad tale of what the people of Mozilla think of anyone who might dare to believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. Eich’s $1000 donation to California’s Prop 8 marriage amendment in 2008 recently cost him his job. The Mozilla Board could have saved themselves a lot of trouble during the interview if they just asked. “So Mr. Eich, what is your view on marriage?”

Isn’t such blacklisting eerily reminiscent of Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt for communists in the 1950’s? A  21st century Cultural McCarthyite’s line of questioning might go something like this: “Have you ever been a member of or ever attended a church that believes homosexuality is a sin?” “Have you ever supported man/woman marriage or ever made a contribution to such an effort?

Which brings us back to the UK questionnaire. The university should be a safe place for free and open inquiry, in other words tolerant. It should also foster debate on important ideas and nurture mutual respect. Until that happens, it is best for students to keep certain opinions on marriage and sexuality to themselves.

This opinion piece appeared in the Russellville New Democrat in May.