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.