Schizophrenia about Religion on Campus in 2012: a Christmastime Finale!

In my final post for Ricochet, I’d like to talk about a few cases that demonstrate some very odd thinking about religion on campus. Given that it’s the holiday season, let’s start with a Christmas story, which involved a community college in North Carolina that thought the Establishment Clause meant that it had to prevent students from running ads using the words “Christmas tree.” My colleague Robert Shibley wrote a great piece about it in The Daily Caller, and here is a little bit about how the case, surprisingly, resolved nicely (colleges almost never apologize).

On a more serious religious note, however, I was angered but not surprised when, back when some thought that the Benghazi attacks might have been due to the “Innocence of Muslims” video, several academics quickly jumped in to proclaim that the incident demonstrated that American ideas about free speech were wrongheaded. I spent a few blogs on The Huffington Post taking apart the censorship-friendly arguments of people like Professor Eric Posner (who really should know better). In my column “We Are All Blasphemers,” I discussed how restricting speech that is offensive on the basis of religion is not only a disastrous idea but also showed ignorance of law and history. In my follow-up post, “Free Speech: Just a Recent Fad?,” I took aim at the ridiculous meme that was circulating at the time roughly stated as “free speech is not really that big of a deal, because the First Amendment wasn’t very powerful until the 1960s.”

You can’t help but contrast the dedication of some academics to protecting the sensibilities of the devoutly religious abroad with academia’s attitude towards evangelical Christians on campus. I talk at length in Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate about cases involving everything from Bible study bans to hilarious double standards about whether students could show The Passion of the Christ. The biggest battles for the rights of conservative Christians this year have been at Tufts University and Vanderbilt University and are still going on. FIRE made this video explaining the Vanderbilt case (featuring country music legend Larry Gatlin and one of my heroes, Jonathan Rauch).

FIRE has always hoped to be so successful defending basic rights on campus that one day there would be no need for us anymore. That is still our aim, but that happy day seems a long way away. Thanks to Ricochet for letting me post this week, and after you’ve supported Ricochet, please consider helping FIRE defend basic liberties on campus.

  1. Barkha Herman

    I wonder how they would feel about the swastika if we just dubbed it the Hindu Swastika instead of Nazi? (re: “Christmas” tree).

    BTW the video link may be broken (or it could just be me).

  2. Greg Lukianoff
    C

    Thanks Barkha. I THINK it should work now. Let me know if it does for you!

  3. Goldgeller
    Barkha Herman: I wonder how they would feel about the swastika if we just dubbed it the Hindu Swastika instead of Nazi? (re: “Christmas” tree).

    BTW the video link may be broken (or it could just be me). · 11 minutes ago

    It’s actually used a lot in animes/mangas…  Most prominently, Ichigo in/from Bleach– his sword’s hilt is a “swastika” (peace manji) because he fights for you know… peace :)

    There were a few “flare ups” or “misunderstandings” that occured in Pokemon and few Japanese RPGs that weren’t localized properly where the swastikas were used, this was mainly in the 90s, for a variety of reasons. 

    I guess it all depends on the crowd. 

  4. KC Mulville

    What’s ironic is that while we’ve always had schools, the university system as we know it is based on … monasteries.

    How does one argue that the university system’s “protection” of students from the ravages of religion is anything but a perversion of its own history?

    There was a book a few years back about how the Irish preserved civilization. Being of Irish descent, I plead bias in embracing most of the arguments. But a main part of the story was that the collected learning of pre-Dark Age Europe was preserved within a handful of Irish monasteries, and then gradually re-spread through monasteries on the continent, Cluny being the most crucial.

    The idea that some university bureaucrats are sitting in conference rooms (bad coffee, stale doughnuts) right now, assured that they’re fulfilling the mission of higher education by eliminating any taint of religion … has to make God snicker.

  5. Goldgeller

    How can I say it? I don’t want to make it seem like I think college campuses hate religion because they hate God or any other deity, or even because they hate the adherents. It’s not about that.  Religion (casually defined) is  often a competing form of social order, in competition with the order  that many in the academy would like see organized. Greg Gutfeld would call these people the “Toleratti” imposing a “faux” tolerance that’s really aimed and squashing anyone who disagrees with them. That’s what gets me. The goal in these schemes is less freedom and more control (in the hands of the Toleratti). It’s about creating little robots who are either afraid of or incapable of expressing anything contrary to the teachers’ values. 

  6. Brasidas

    Greg, just wanted to let you know that I’ve very much enjoyed your posts and commentary on Ricochet this week.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the visit here yourself.  Free speech on campus is an eminently worthy cause.  Good luck to you and to FIRE.  

  7. Greg Lukianoff
    C

    Thank you, so much. That means a lot to me. It has been a crazy fall. Not only did I have a book come out, I also got married and I am headed out on my honeymoon, finally, on Jan 4th. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you all.

    Also, for those of you who are out in the SF Bay Area, I will be speaking at Stanford in the last week of February.  Hope to see some of you!

    Brasidas: Greg, just wanted to let you know that I’ve very much enjoyed your posts and commentary on Ricochet this week.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the visit here yourself.  Free speech on campus is an eminently worthy cause.  Good luck to you and to FIRE.   · 10 minutes ago

  8. Goldgeller

    Greg I enjoyed your posts. I will get your book. Congratulations on your marriage and best wishes  to you and yours! 

  9. Nick Stuart

    Doesn’t have to be your final post ever. Don’t be a stranger, drop by whenever and as often as you like.

  10. Brasidas

    Congratulations, Greg, on getting married.  Have a great honeymoon.  Hope to see you around here again sometime soon.  

  11. Severely Ltd.

    Thanks for the many links, much food for thought. I hope we hear from you here in the future.

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In