Religious Students Face Double Standards on Campus

By on June 19, 2006

Tomorrow, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff will speak on a panel about religious liberty in the United States as part of Religious Freedom Day on Capitol Hill, a day of events organized for the purpose of “promoting, protecting, preserving religious freedom around the world.”
 
One of the biggest challenges facing religious students at American colleges and universities is that they are often subjected to double standards—what is acceptable for secular groups and students is not acceptable for religious groups and students. For example:
 
  • When the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire prohibited resident assistants from leading Bible studies in their own dormitories, it claimed the ban was necessary because some students might not feel RAs who lead Bible studies are “approachable.” The year before, however, the UWEC administration praised another resident assistant for staging the controversial feminist play The Vagina Monologues as an official “residence hall activity.” As FIRE pointed out in a letter to the university, rather than receiving a letter from the housing office ordering her to cease her production of the play out of concern that she be “approachable” to all students, the student in question garnered very public praise in the college newspaper from a housing office official.
 
  • In November 2004, Indian River Community College in Florida prohibited a Christian student group from screening Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, supposedly because the film was R-rated. Yet the college allowed a theater group to perform on campus a skit entitled “Fucking for Jesus,” which involved a character simulating sex with and masturbating to an image of Jesus—a skit that I assume would merit at least an R-rating.
 
  • Before FIRE intervened, Princeton University required religious student groups to gain special approval from the dean of religious life before being permitted to apply for recognition. Secular student groups faced no equivalent barriers to recognition.
 
  • In 2002, Washington University in St. Louis refused to recognize the student group Law Students Pro-Life, ostensibly on the grounds of "the narrowness of your group’s interests and goals." At the same time, however, the university recognized a number of other organizations that various individuals might find "narrow," such as an environmental law club and a golf club.
 
It is a sad state of affairs that, in a country founded on principles of religious freedom, religious students and student groups must struggle mightily to be treated equally with their secular counterparts.