This is a letter to the editor of the Cornell Daily Sun, responding to a Sun report today about a campus Christian group apparently violating anti-discrimination rules by not allowing a gay student to become a leader.
To the Editor:
Alex Berg (“Outcry Erupts from Alleged Homophobia” April 23) seems to think the Chris Donohoe case is simply a matter of bias and homophobia. Actually it isn’t. Both anti-discrimination rules and freedom of religion are important, but you should know that religious groups hold the trump cards here and have been winning most of these clashes on campuses around the country. The reason is that no court, no political official, certain no university or student panel, can tell a religious group what to believe or insist that someone who does not accept the group’s belief system be accepted as a leader.
The first time I noticed this kind of dispute was at Tufts in 2000 in a case very similar to the one at Cornell today. A female student, running for office in a campus Evangelical group, said she had been struggling with her sexuality, faced the fact that she was bisexual and had come to the conclusion that Christian belief is compatible with a homosexual life. The Group said she could stay as a member–in fact they said they loved her– but couldn’t become an officer. The Christian group was de-funded, de-recognized, not even allowed to use bulletin boards. Tufts backed down quickly when the concept of religious freedom was explained and a few lawyers for the Evangelicals showed up. Conservative Christian groups may be wrong about homosexuality, but every group based on a set of beliefs is entitled to control its own message. Now the pattern is for universities to allow loopholes in anti-bias rules for “sincerely held religious beliefs” (Ohio State’s wording).
And it’s not just religious organizations. If every student is eligible to join and rise in any group, what would prevent a hundred or so Republicans flooding into a Democratic club and reversing the group’s message? Do we really think that Hillel is bound to accept Holocaust-deniers or that a science club must allow flat-earth officers?