FIRE’s Creeley on Religious Campus Controversies

By February 14, 2011

FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley is featured in the latest op-ed from nationally syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly, who writes the weekly "On Religion" column for Scripps Howard News Service. Will discusses controversies over religion on campus.

From the Mohammed cartoons to disputes over whether openly gay students should be able to lead evangelical Christian student groups, religion adds a great deal of passionate debate to many campus disputes. Discussing past FIRE cases, Mattingly writes:

Anyone who explores academic hallways on American campuses will find lots of cartoons posted on professors’ office doors and bulletin boards.

But what if the cartoons included the Prophet Muhammad?

In one famous case, a professor at Century College in Minnesota dared to post the Muhammad cartoons that were published in a Danish newspaper. Facing fierce criticism, she put the images behind a curtain so that anyone passing her bulletin board would not see them unless they chose to do so. Administrators quickly created a policy requiring advance approval of all posted items.

It’s easy to find hot religion buttons on campuses. What if a club tried to screen Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" and administrators banned it, citing its R-rating and controversial content? What if the same administrators allowed a play on campus in which a character pretended to perform a sex act on an image of Jesus?

What if a Jewish group sponsored a campus lecture by an Israeli official and it had to be cancelled due to heckling by Palestinian students? What if a professor urged students to destroy a campus-approved display of tiny crosses, created by pro-life students, that symbolically represented their opposition to abortion?

These cases are real and there are hundreds more.

"Passions are boiling over on many campuses," stressed attorney William Creeley, who directs legal teams for the secular Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "Students and professors and administrators are fighting about all kinds of things, but the surface issues are often proxies for the real issue – which is religion… "

"The garb in which these clashes are clothed may be student rights or campus fees, but they are usually about religion, morality and sex."

Mattingly proceeds to discuss more FIRE cases, with added analysis from Will. You can read the whole column here.