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The Right to Be Differently Excellent: Why Christian Colleges Should Be Allowed to Be Christian

source: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2016/05/16907/

Vanderbilt is legally free to constitute itself as a non-religious university. The question is whether Gordon College will be left free to constitute itself as a Christian college. Will we have equal liberty, or only liberty for those who despise Christianity?

Gordon College is still under attack for being an intentionally Christian college. For nearly two years, cultural elites in Massachusetts, led by The Boston Globe, have been waging a sustained campaign of accusation and coercion in an effort to force the college to abandon the self-consciously Christian identity expressed in its life and conduct statement.

The attack appeared existential at one time, when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges announced that it would review Gordon’s accreditation. Yet to its lasting credit, the college has remained steadfast in its witness. After a well-organized and vocal objection by the college’s supportersand other friends of conscience, the NEASC quietly backed down.

Still the attacks continue. Most recently, a former Gordon philosophy professor, Lauren Barthold, has filed suit against Gordon alleging unlawful discrimination. Her complaint is signed by lawyers of the American Civil Liberties Union. The college denies her allegations, explaining that she was disciplined by her colleagues on the faculty not on a legally prohibited basis but because she wrote in a newspaper calling for outsiders to impose economic sanctions on the college. She encouraged others to pressure the college to abandon its Christian moral ideals.

The ACLU’s complaint does not contradict that account. And if recent history is any indication, the full facts will vindicate Gordon College once they surface. None of the accusations leveled against Gordon over the last two years has turned out to be true, except the charge that members of the Gordon College community choose to live biblically. Gordon has not discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. Indeed, Professor Barthold acknowledges the “many . . . LGBTQ-identified students who have found deep friendships, intellectual growth and spiritual support [at Gordon].”

So, this case is not about Gordon discriminating. This case is about Gordon’s right to be excellent in ways that other Massachusetts colleges and universities are not. The issue is whether Massachusetts courts will preserve the liberty of Gordon’s faculty, staff, and students to maintain an educational community that is unique in its moral commitments. On this point Gordon College can claim an unlikely ally. If the judges of Massachusetts read the writings of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then they will learn that Gordon College has the right to be differently excellent.

The Constitutional Right to Exclude

In its 2010 decision in the case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court of the United States declared and upheld the right of a state university to discriminate against unwanted student groups by excluding them from campus life. The unwanted student groups in Martinez were (who else?) religious groups that require members to live according to moral truths.

As Justice Ginsburg explained for the Court, the right to exclude does not emanate from the written Constitution but from the university’s status as property owner. Property is an ancient source of constitutional rights, much older than our written constitutions, and more fundamental to American constitutionalism. It has been part of our fundamental law since the first English colonists brought the common law to our shores. Far from abrogating the fundamental rights of property, the drafters of our state and national constitutions declared and codified them.   READ MORE