This week on "The 3", my week-in-review feature, the spotlight shines on a North Carolina university has said that a Christian club is really not a Christian club and therefore has to admit all comers, some good news out of a Federal appeals court concerning the right of New York City churches to rent public school buildings on the weekends, and a key Senate vote gives more affirmation for the White House and its attempt to override the religious beliefs of a variety of institutions and organizations in the execution of its health care plan.
3 - University says that a Christian club is not "religious"
We are hearing quite frequently about Christian organizations on college campuses that are being forced to comply with the rules of the institutions that state that a Christian club cannot be selective in its membership and/or leadership, to the extent that a person who does not hold to Christian beliefs can still be admitted into the group and cannot be denied a leadership position. This has led to conflicts with a variety of schools, including Vanderbilt University, which has said that a number of Christian groups must comply with its so-called "non-discrimination" rules and adopt an "all-comers" policy.
But, as the American Center for Law and Justice and host of other groups contend, this is a violation of their constitutional freedom of religion and freedom of association. As the ACLJ contends, if the university was truly interested in fairness, its fraternity and sorority system would cease to exist - seems those organizations have great latitude in selecting their members and leaders, but faith-based organizations apparently cannot enjoy the same latitude.
And, current students and alumni are challenging the university's policy. In fact, one of the leading voices, Vanderbilt professor Dr. Carol Swain, will be a guest on my radio show this Thursday. On her blog, she contends that the controversy would be easily resolved if a single sentence were placed in both the University’s written nondiscrimination policy and the affirmation form:
“A student organization whose primary purpose is religious will not be denied registration as a Registered Student Organization on the ground that it limits membership or leadership positions to students who share the religious beliefs of the organization.”
This is not an uncommon action that we find as colleges and universities, in the attempt to be politically correct and overly tolerant, stifle student groups' freedom of association and freedom to set their own policies.
Now, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the administration has taken a new approach to deny religious freedom - they basically have said that an explicitly Christian club, the Make Up Your Own Mind club, is not a religious club, therefore they must follow all the rules of other organizations. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys are representing the club in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco states that, “Saying that a Christian club isn’t religious is flatly absurd...especially when the university has granted its belief-based exception to numerous other clubs. The First Amendment forbids the government from determining what is and what is not ‘religious,’ yet the university is doing exactly this by telling a Christian group that it is not religious. The Constitution protects the right of all student groups to employ belief-based criteria in selecting their members and leaders.”
2 - New York churches given reprieve by Federal appeals court
We are continuing to follow the situation involving churches in New York City, who had been told they could no longer rent public school buildings for use on Sundays for worship activities. This is a policy that the city has been attempting to enact for years, and with the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to hear the case of one particular church, Bronx Household of Faith, as it brought legal action against the city, now the city has sensed the green light to try to go ahead and force the churches to meet elsewhere.
Not so fast, said the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled this Wednesday that the churches could continue to meet in public school buildings at least until June. The appeals court upheld a lower court judge who had said the schools could continue to rent their facilities to the churches. Some churches have already made other arrangements, but there is some hope that the city will not be able to bar the churches from meeting in the school buildings.
A New York City pastor, Bill Devlin of Manhattan Bible Church, recently ended a 42-day water-only fast in order to focus on this issue and cry out to God on behalf of their freedom to assemble in these facilities.
1 - U.S. Senate turns back attempt to overturn contraceptive mandate
And, the beat goes on, as Congress has been attempting to turn back the mandate that a number of religious groups provide for free contraception and even abortion-inducing drugs through their insurance plans, even though doing so may violate their deeply held beliefs. The Senate took up legislation this week that would have opened debate on overriding the mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services - 3 Democrats joined 45 Republicans to vote on proceeding on the bill, but 50 Democrats and 1 Republican voted to stop it, so by a 51-48 vote in the Senate, President Obama's policy was affirmed. A House committee held hearings this week on the mandate, and despite the contention that the key point of the debate was the Administration's refusal to accommodate the religious beliefs of organizations in its policies under the health care law, the debate has expanded into the moral issue of contraception itself.
Those that support the HHS mandate say that opponents of it are not concerned with women's health and so-called "reproductive rights". And, the talking points have now included that all mandate opponents oppose contraception, and it is true that many do, based on their interpretation of Scripture. But, the word "free" needs to be included in the communication of the issue - if a health insurer is to provide free contraception or "free" anything, then someone has to pay for it, in the form of higher premiums. It could even be that, in some cases, the government would be providing free contraception - in which case, it would be the taxpayers.
Nevertheless, in order to meet the requirement of free contraception, no matter the circumstances, someone has to pay the freight - and the question has been rightly posed that if a person will be engaging in promiscuous sex and attempting to avoid some of the consequences of that activity, such as pregnancy or STD's, should that behavior, which is deemed immoral by the Bible, be subsidized by others, who may not condone such behavior? So, in the attempt to stigmatize the opponents of the contraception mandate as being backward and unenlightened, they/we have been characterized as wanting to deny women their so-called reproductive freedom. It's an important consideration, that unfortunately has been hijacked by many using Rush Limbaugh's unfortunate choice of words toward a Georgetown Law School student who wanted her institution to change its policy to include - and there's that word again - "free" contraception. Just another symptom of the "anything goes" mentality that is so prevalent in our culture.
The issues remain, in order of importance: 1) religious freedom 2) the morality of "free" contraception, which provides a false promise of consequence-free immoral behavior, and 3) the ability of the government insert itself into the free market and to tell private businesses what they can and cannot cover in their health insurance plans.