Congressman Smith Capitol Report: Fighting for the First
When we hear the word discrimination, we think about the stories we see most dominant in the news, bias involving race or gender, but there is another type of discrimination happening across campuses of higher learning all over this country – one based on religion. University after university has quietly been trying to silence the viewpoints the administrative body or professors of the college disagree with. Most often that has come in the form of silencing students active in different religious groups on campus. It is ironic to think that these same colleges who like to view themselves as the progressive institutes of thought and open debate and inclusiveness are the same places trying to run roughshod over Constitutionally protected freedom of speech rights simply because they don’t like the role religion plays at the center of life for so many of us in America.
Actions by these universities have included such things as revoking campus charters of religious groups to hold meetings, banning them from campus facilities or housing, or even denying certain students’ admissions all together because of their decision to promote Christianity in their lives. At a California State University, a Christian student organization was ‘derecognized’ by the college, stripping it of receiving similar benefits afforded to other groups operating on campus, simply for requiring its leaders to live a life focused on core Christian values. At a college in Baltimore, two students’ applications were discriminated against because they said ‘faith’ and ‘God’ were most important in their life. While these may sound like isolated problems of coastal states symptomatic of anti-family, anti-religion thought dominating some of these colleges, unfortunately the problem runs deeper. The University of Iowa deregistered a Christian based student organization because of its ‘leadership standards’ which required participants to live out Christian morals. These values included embracing the mission of spreading the message of Christ on campus. In another incident, the same university tried to remove a religious group because of complaints about the group’s views on marriage.
The First Amendment to our Constitution guarantees the right of freedom of speech, yet all too often colleges, and universities, places which are supposed to be incubators of thought, debate, conversation and learning for our next generation, are willing to completely steamroll over the First Amendment when they disagree with the views being espoused. Earlier this year, I helped co-author the Equal Campus Access Act which would withhold federal funds from higher education institutions that deny a religious student organization any right, benefit, or privilege that is afforded to other student organizations. Your tax dollars shouldn’t be used to support these type of places which run completely counter to the foundation and values and Constitutional rights of our country. While Speaker Pelosi has been unwilling to bring this legislation before Congress for a vote, we thankfully have a White House who is as equally frustrated with colleges and universities who think the only groups worth operating on campuses are those which agree with their biased and tilted viewpoints. Just this week the Department of Education under President Trump’s leadership finalized a requirement that any public education institution receiving federal taxpayer dollars MUST adhere to First Amendment protections of speech, association, religion and academic freedom among others. Failure to comply now gives the Department of Education grounds to simply cut off funding to these supposed places of inclusivity and learning.
Discrimination in all forms is unacceptable. Unfortunately, it seems that some think this just applies to race or gender…it doesn’t, and some of the worst discrimination happening right in front of our faces is towards religion. Students participating in faith-based organizations deserve the same level of treatment and respect as all other organizations operating on college campuses, and it’s remarkable that the discrimination they are facing isn’t from other students, but from the universities they spend thousands of dollars on to attend. College campuses should not be a place hostile to anyone, but especially those just trying to live a Christian life. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say, “America would be better off if it just had a little less religion in it”. Our country was founded on the freedom of one to worship and honor God. What are we teaching the next generation if someone in more power can forcibly silence views they disagree with, simply because they can. The First Amendment right protects ALL American’s, not just those who views we may agree with, and I will always take on the fight to uphold that.