John Leo

"UNC couldn't defend in public what it was willing to do in private," said Alan Charles Kors, president of FIRE. "Everybody on campus would immediately see the absurdity ... if an evangelical Christian who believed homosexuality to be a sin tried to become president of a university's Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Alliance. The administration would have led candlelight vigils on behalf of diversity and free association."

At Tufts, a student tribunal defunded and "derecognized" an evangelical group for refusing to allow a bisexual member to become a leader in the group. The group said it knew that the bisexual woman was "exploring sexuality" and had no trouble with it and made no effort to expel her. But while the group supported gay rights, it said it could not accept a leader who challenged the group's conclusion that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture. By ruling against the evangelicals (without a hearing), Tufts in effect said that the Christian group would have to abandon its principles to remain on campus. Tufts backed down under pressure from FIRE and David French of Lexington, Ky., lawyer for the evangelicals.

The primary lesson here is not that universities are torn between freedom of religion and anti-bias rules. Rather the lesson is that administrators are willing to respond to a powerful campus group, the gay lobby, at the expense of one that is weaker and usually disfavored on campus. Though written in the bland language of brotherhood, anti-discrimination laws give critics of private groups "a public hammer with which to beat groups they oppose," said Richard Epstein, professor of law at the University of Chicago.

Such laws also provide a way for outsiders to reach into a dissenting group to determine its membership, policies and officers. Using a verbal screen of "diversity," "fairness" and "non-discrimination," university officials delegitimize religion by substituting campus orthodoxy for religious principles. Even if a university feels torn, said French, its anti-discrimination rules shouldn't trump the First Amendment's protection of freedom of religion, association and speech. Anti-discrimination laws are in fact becoming a threat to these freedoms.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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