Recently, I received a rare student complaint over an e-mail I had sent to all my classes. In the e-mail, which welcomed all of my students back for a new semester, I characterized myself as an “outspoken Christian professor.” I admitted that I had been critical of some aspects of Darwinism and that I saw my students as more than mere “random mutations.” Finally, I said my Christian views would cause me to treat them differently – namely, by holding them all to a high standard that would help them find their purpose in life: a Divine purpose given to them by their Creator.
The remarks in this e-mail were all couched within the context of the story of a former student of mine. He had often come to class late and talked throughout my lectures – at least until he received a poor grade on his first exam. Afterwards, I castigated him for his conduct and told him he would never become anything until he learned to act like an adult and to fulfill his God-given potential.
In his letter to the department chair, the student claimed that it was inappropriate and offensive for a professor to reveal his religious affiliation in class. He said he was also offended by what he perceived as an inappropriate put-down of Darwinism. Finally, he expressed his concern that he would become a victim of religious discrimination because he did not share my religious views.
If he’d bothered to approach me directly, I could have told this student a little of what I know about inappropriate and offensive religious expression in the classroom. In fifth grade I had a teacher named Barbara O’Gara. Mrs. O’Gara was my favorite teacher despite the fact that I was then a Baptist and she was an atheist. Mrs. O’Gara made no secret of this fact. She mentioned it on the first day of class, and she mentioned it throughout the year.
During the course of the year, though, it never occurred to me to report Mrs. O’Gara for simply stating her religious affiliation. If it offended me, I simply dealt with it. Even as a fifth-grader, I sensed that this was how mature people handled things. She had a right to her feelings, and I had a right to mine.
That basic courtesy eluded this student, though. (It eluded my department chairwoman, too – she notified the Dean’s Office) Whether out of his fear that I wouldn’t tolerate his views (though nowhere in my e-mail did I say I would single anyone out for disparate treatment), or out of his zeal to suppress mine, he entirely missed the point that I was making – a point not unlike the one made in the Declaration of Independence. I simply added the concept of “purpose” to the list of gifts (like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) bestowed upon us by our Creator … and said that everyone in my class would be held to a high standard – the same high standard – to encourage their progress toward that purpose.
Now, clearly, discovering his higher purpose is less interesting to this student than reveling in his heightened sense of victim-hood. But while it is tempting to get angry at young people who assert a “right to be un-offended,” the fault is not really with this generation of students. It is with this generation of college administrators.
As students in the 1960s, the Baby Boomers fought for the right to be treated as adults. After they became college administrators in the 1990s, they began to fight for students’ right to be treated like children. The war was waged principally with speech codes, which give almost unlimited power to college administrators who wish to control the marketplace of ideas.
Those of us who oppose these speech codes should not be angry when college administrators try to enforce them. We should thank God for the arrogance that these codes foster. They embolden these administrators in ways that seldom play well in front of a jury of their peers.
Because of organizations like the Alliance Defense Fund, we are now able to wage war on these codes, not just in the court of public opinion, but in the courts of law.
And this is our only hope: that by causing a new generation to revolt against the illegal constrictions of their parents – the same parents who revolted against the constrictions of their parents – we can turn this nation around and return to the values articulated by the Founding Fathers.
As one who is a plaintiff in an ADF case, I feel like I am playing a part in an important revolution. It almost feels like I’ve found a Divine purpose given to me by my Creator.