UC Davis Backtracks on Discriminatory Definition of Religious Discrimination

February 17, 2011

In my nearly five years with FIRE, I’ve seen a lot of terrible campus speech policiesincredibly restrictive speech codes, tiny free speech "patios", wildly overbroad harassment policies, and more. But just when I thought I’d seen it all, along comes a school that infringes on student rights in an altogether new and fascinating way.

Congratulations, University of California at Davis: You’ve impressed me.

As Casey Mattox of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) documents here, until yesterday, UC Davis’ Office of Community Campus Relations defined "Religious/Spiritual Discrimination" as:

The loss of power and privilege to those who do not practice the dominant culture’s religion. In the United States, this is institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian.

The implications of this definition are obviously deeply problematic. Where to start? For one, UC Davis apparently was comfortable with defining the United States as a Christian nation. That’s sure to be shocking news to all UC Davis students, regardless of faith.

Even more shocking is the fact that under this definition, Christians cannot be the victims of religious discrimination. No, because Christianity is "the dominant culture’s religion," UC Davis maintained that Christians cannot themselves be subject to discrimination. The fact that students of a certain faith were simply expected to keep a stiff upper lip when subjected to what would otherwise be religious discrimination is sure to come as quite a jolt to Christian students at UC Davis.

In a letter (.PDF) sent by ADF allied attorney Tim Swickard to UC Davis yesterday, Swickard notes that under the school’s definition, "it would be an affirmative defense to a charge of religious discrimination for the perpetrator to prove that the victim was a Christian."

Thankfully, in response to the letter and the press coverage that immediately ensued, UC Davis quickly pulled down the webpage that had contained the definition, and disavowed the definition itself: 

Raheem Reed, an associate executive vice chancellor at UC-Davis, said he received the letter and removed the definition Wednesday afternoon.

"I certainly can see how a Christian student reading that definition might feel and that’s why it was immediately disabled and taken down," Reed told Fox News Radio. "This is not how we define religious discrimination."  

We’re happy to see that UC Davis has quickly seen the error of its definition and has committed itself to protecting the First Amendment freedom of religion rights of all students, regardless of their faith.

Schools:  University of California, Davis