The University of California-Davis has an interesting twist on its nondiscrimination rule. In its definition of “religious discrimination” UC Davis goes out of its way to make clear that the policy protects all students regardless of their religious beliefs … unless those beliefs are Christian. Then you’re on your own. Here’s the text:
Religious/Spiritual Discrimination - The loss of power and privilege to those who do not practice the dominant culture's religion. In the United States, this is institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian. http://www.telladf.org/userdocs/UC-DavisDefinition.pdf (emphasis added).
Thus, as today’s letter from ADF allied attorney Tim Swickard on behalf of over two dozen UC Davis students points out, at UC Davis “it would be an affirmative defense to a charge of religious discrimination for the perpetrator to prove that the victim was a Christian.”
To be sure, prohibiting atheist or Muslim student organizations from denying a leadership position to an evangelical Christian would surely violate those organizations’ First Amendment rights and the letter expressly urges the school to protect Christian students as it does other faiths but to apply the policy in a rational manner that protects the First Amendment rights of others. But a complete exclusion of Christians from the schools’ protections completely undermines any supposed purpose of a nondiscrimination rule. By protecting some religions and then excluding others (Christians) from its protection, UC Davis manages to violate most of the First Amendment’s clauses and the Equal Protection Clause.
But the constitutionality of this discriminatory practice is probably not in dispute to any rational person. The better question then is how UC Davis arrived at this point and whether it arrived here alone or this is emblematic of a mentality on other campuses around the country. First, the facts. UC Davis asserts that Christianity is “the dominant culture’s religion” in the United States. This might be a good point to recall during the next debate with a UC Davis law professor since it appears that the school has concluded that the United States is a Christian nation. Of course, while the majority of Americans will self-identify as Christians, this should not be taken to mean that a majority of Americans truly hold a Biblical worldview or even will agree with a set of basic Christian doctrines, like the Nicene Creed. Self-identification does not a Christian make.
And to narrow this down to the University context, the idea that Christianity is the “dominant culture’s religion” on typical campuses – or UC Davis in particular – is absurd. Indeed, one study has demonstrated that over half of university professors admit [See pages 79-81] that they would have negative feelings about a student solely because she is an evangelical Christian. Catholics and Mormons did not fare much better and Muslim and atheist students were viewed much more favorably, but evangelicals were the only group that over half of university professors admitted to not liking solely because of their religious beliefs. So UC Davis’s idea that Christians are somehow a dominant faith on its campus and without need of any protection from discrimination is just counterfactual.
Universities spend millions of dollars on “diversity” programs, “safe zones” and even entire departments devoted to ensuring that students of various sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, etc. are made to feel comfortable on campus or even have advisory councils, like UC Davis’s Campus Council on Community and Diversity, to ensure their concerns are heard by the University. But on at least many public university campuses Christian students often feel as though they aren’t welcome. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Christ tells us up front that “[Y]ou will be hated by all because of My name.” Luke 21:17 (New American Standard Version). Christians, on campus and elsewhere, should wonder what they’re doing wrong if they are universally loved. But this eternal truth provides no excuse for a public university to facilitate discrimination against Christian students.
While UC Davis is the first University I’m aware of to openly state in writing that its nondiscrimination rules are not intended to protect Christian students, one could not fault Christian students on many campuses for having the idea that this is the de facto rule on their campuses too. Even if UC Davis quickly backtracks, as I suspect it will, on this incredibly offensive policy in response to Mr. Swickard’s letter, my hope is that this will provide a good opportunity to dialogue about the environment on this and other campuses for Christian students.
ADF Press Release
UPDATE: Fox News is reporting that the University has already changed the policy. The university is to be commended for moving so quickly. In the last month, we’ve seen several universities move with unusual speed to correct unconstitutional or unlawful policies. Is this a sign of increased respect for the First Amendment?
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