Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Is the Reformation Over?

Well... apparently the Reformation is not over, neither are the strong-arm tactics of some institutions associated with the Roman Catholic Church. According to a Christianity Today update, Georgetown University, via its "Protestant Chaplaincy," has decided to terminate operation of all Protestant campus ministries in favor of university-run groups.

First came a "ban on prosyletizing." Then came the expulsion of parachurch ministries aimed at meeting the students' spiritual needs. Now comes reconstitution of the chaplaincy to oversee and run student spiritual organizations to "ensure that their spiritual needs are being met." And the kick in the head... "According to Inside Higher Ed, group leaders also had to sign a statement 'expressing respect for the Catholic faith as a legitimate path to God'."

So much for freedom of conscience and religious expression--including the freedom to disagree or reject a religious idea. Religious freedom is the most fundamental and basic of all freedoms, and the freedom that most touches upon eternity and salvation. Whatever else Georgetown University is as a Catholic institution, it should not be allowed to impinge upon such an essential freedom.

Yep... same old Rome. Someone had better check the student handbook for the section on burning heretics.


Bookpress said...

I love you brother, but I've got to disagree on this one. I am disappointed to see GU students lose these freedoms and ministries, but I think GU's position should be expected from a religious private university.

The religious private university I attended is a bit of an outlier (in many ways), but there the students' freedoms of conscience and religion were primarily exercisable through the freedom to transfer to another school.

In any event, it appears that GU's students still possess freedoms of conscience and religion - they just lack separation of school and state. Regrettable, but understandable.

FellowElder said...

I appreciate the love brother ;-) Good to hear from you.

Do you think that agreeing to attend a particular university, public or private, limits a person's freedom of assembly and free exercise? Do you think a private institution of EDUCATION should have the right to dictate individual RELIGIOUS preference?

Now, you're the lawyer, so I'm asking these questions as humbly as I can :-) Looking forward to your thoughts.


Bookpress said...

Well, I'm far from an expert in Constitutional law, but I think that those freedoms are constitutionally protected vis-a-vis the government. Therefore, the student has rights in the public school setting (hence equal access for religious clubs, etc) but not the private school setting.

Of course, that is not to say that there are no rights in the private school setting. I think a private school would still be considered a public accommodation and therefore subject to civil rights law, etc.

As a religious (and necessarily private) educational institution, GU has the ability to shape its religious instruction, services, etc. The same thing that a seminary like SBTS would want. We just think we see a dichotomy because GU, in recent history, has not been as religiously oriented or rigorous as SBTS has recently been.

But, to answer your second question, it depends. (You have to expect that from a laywer!) If you mean freedom of conscience, then no, they neither should nor can dictate preference.

If you mean availability of services, I would say that depends on whether the institution is strictly educational. If they have a religious component to their mission, as GU does, then yes, they should be able to dictate availability of religious services.

After all, we have to play by the same rules and I'm sure that Al doesn't want the government determining that SBTS has to permit or provide access or services for, say, Unitarian groups. ;-)

Am I making any sense here or just sounding like a lawyer?

Shawn Abigail said...

I'm not the world's biggest fan of Roman Catholicism, but what if a private Baptist college had a professor who believed Roman Catholicism was the only valid expression of Christianity and insisted his academic freedom allowed him to express that viewpoint in his research and in the classroom?

FellowElder said...

I think there is a real difference between a professor wanting to contradict the organizing ideas of the institution that hires him and the student who is not required to hold a particular religious creed to attend and wants to participate in a strictly voluntary, independently supported organization. So, "no" I don't think the professor should be able to hide behind either "academic freedom" or "freedom of expression" while subverting the institution. But I also think it's going well beyond the school's authority to require Protestant students sign a statement that endorses Roman Catholicism and limit voluntary religious association. My two cents....

FellowElder said...

I think you're making sense... for a lawyer ;-) I'll have to think more about your first point. How far would the private school's authority to restrict "services" go? Does it extend to forbidding a group of 7 Protestant students meeting for Bible study in one of their dorm rooms? Or, is it limited to the school's "right" to restrict certain parachurch organizations deemed inconsistent with its mission/charter?

Bookpress said...

First, I need to correct something I wrote earlier. I was talking to a very beautiful lawyer, far smarter than I, who reminded me that freedom of association would permit even a non-religious private school to restrict religious activities. She is of the opinion that GU may even have the right to refuse admission to Protestant students on grounds of their faith - if they wanted to. Of course, I don't want to present these thoughts as completely cut and dried - a good lawyer, skilled in this area, could make a case opposing the school's action. As believers though, we need to consider the potential for such efforts to backfire on us in our own institutions.

On your question, I admit that I don't know where the line is. It would probably depend on things like the student's privacy interest in the dorm room, etc. Not an area of the law I am familiar enough with to identify a bright line rule. Sorry, I know that is unsatisfying.

FellowElder said...

It's very satisfying. It's more than i know about the law. And that "beautiful lawyer" should certainly be listened to ;-) Wise man :-) Please say "hello" to her for me. Grace and peace,

Shawn Abigail said...

OK, so let's get back to the actual statement. "group leaders also had to sign a statement 'expressing respect for the Catholic faith as a legitimate path to God'."

Do you think it is acceptable for a private Baptist college to ask the leaders of student spiritual movements (Campus Crusade, Navigators, Bible study clubs, etc) to declare that they believe the evangelical faith to be a legitimate path to God.

Or should the administration of a Baptist college (or even a Southern Baptist seminary) declare that a man who converts to Roman Catholicism, turns his back on the evangelical faith and declares there is no salvation outside of Rome, is not spiritually qualified to lead one of these spiritual groups?

Again, I believe the evangelical faith and little tolerance for Rome, but I'm not sure what the Catholics have done at Georgetown is all that different than what would be acceptable at many evangelical institutions. I don't want to "beat a dead horse", but this is how I see it.

FellowElder said...

Perhaps I'm wrong on this issue... missing something vital here.

But, I'm not sure posing hypotheticals as counterfactuals to the actual incidents at GU are the way to go here. As far as I know (and I don't know for sure), there is no statement of faith that must be signed before being admitted to GU. If there were such a document required as a condition of admission (at GU, SBTS, or anywhere else for that matter), I'd have no problem. It would be open and shut in my mind.

But the situation seems far from that. The institution admitted (and continues to admit) students that hold a different understanding of Christianity than that espoused by RCC. They know that a priori. To admit those studenst, only later to require the students to sign a document contrary to their confession as a condition for participating in a Protestant club seems a bit strong-armish to me. In my mind, GU should have issued a policy change to take effect say... the following semester or school year... that applied to all students as a condition of enrollment. To single out Evangelical Christians (as opposed to Jewish students or sikhs or atheists) for this treatment feels like persecution to me. Would we really support GU officials mandating what type of Islamic or Jewish observances were permissible for its student clubs? Perhaps... but I have a hard time believing we would. I wouldn't.

In a case where these terms are NOT set as a condition of admission, which right should prevail? That of the school to govern association or the individual? with absolute zero legal expertise or intelligence, I guess I side with the individual.

FellowElder said...

And by the way, the issue appears to be their participation in a voluntary club... not their participation or admission as students at the institution. We're not dealing with an institutions right to define admission criteria but with the curtailing of a student's ability to use their free time in a Christian club. Again... I most certainly could be wrong... but that feels like over-reaching to me.

josh said...

This post on the same topic may be enlightening:

Bottum: Georgetown Catholic Again? []

Tope said...

Might I offer a bit of insight and correction on this post, as someone who is familiar with both evangelicalism and Catholicism (raised evangelical, now in the process of becoming Catholic)?

It's rather misleading to describe Georgetown as being run by "Rome". The Vatican very rarely intervenes in the business of Catholic universities in the US, and this is certainly not one of those cases. Georgetown is a Jesuit university, and the Jesuits are rather infamous among doctrinally conservative Catholics for being extremely liberal, both from a doctrinal and political standpoint. It's rather ironic that the university would require Protestant groups to sign on to a statement "expressing respect for the Catholic faith as a legitimate path to God", since the ostensibly Catholic leaders of Georgetown do very little to show respect for their own faith. Let me offer a small example. You might recall a little fuss which took place a few years ago over the graduation speech given by Cardinal Arinze, a Catholic Cardinal, at Georgetown. In this speech the Cardinal affirmed the importance of traditional marriage and the family to society, and denounced gay marriage and contraception. Both faculty and students expressed great offense over this speech. Cardinal Arinze was lambasted in the press and at the university for upholding traditional Christian beliefs. This is just a small example that demonstrates how far from Catholic orthodoxy Georgetown has drifted.

As for this particular incident, the reaction of orthodox Catholics to the removal of evangelical Protestant groups from campus has been uniformly negative. See, for example, Mark Shea, Amy Welborn (here and here )and Touchstone.

I understand that as a Baptist you would have a number of objections to Catholic teaching and ecclesiology, but this is a very unfair criticism.

Tope said...

On another note, can anyone imagine Liberty University or Bob Jones University allowing Catholic groups to meet on campus in the name of "religious freedom?" I think not. I think Georgetown did the wrong thing in kicking these groups off campus, one of which I was a member of myself (that would be Campus Crusade). However, I think the argument in this post is a strawman. Many of your readers would be horrified if a Baptist University that made any claim to orthodoxy admitted Catholic students, much less allowed them to meet as a group on campus. It's rather disingenuous to characterize this sort of behavior as the heavy-handedness of "Rome".

FellowElder said...

Thank you for your loving comments. I did not intend the comments in the post to be a either a "strawman" or "disingenuous." I appreciate your pointing out the looseness of my use of "Rome." It was meant to be provocative, but perhaps it failed in the worst sort of way.

I'm encouraged that we agree on the substance of the issue... that it was wrong to remove these organizations from the campus.

But your comments, and others, help me to see my own heart and tongue more clearly. For any offense given through my loose writing, I apologize.

Tope said...

Thanks for your gracious response to my comments; I appreciate it. If any part of my comments was uncharitable, I apologize as well.

Anonymous said...

First of all, let me say that I am not a Catholic, but my husband and I have been a part of various religious educational institutions over the past 25 years. I don't see a problem with Georgetown, as an educational institution with a religious affiliation, restricting certain extracurricular clubs/activities on campus.

Like many of the previous commenters, I cannot imagine that a school like Liberty University or SBTS should be required to allow a Catholic club (or a pro-choice club, or a gay rights club) to be a part of their campus community. Likewise, I do not understand why any solid protestant and/or evangelical would (a) feel the need to attend a private, Catholic university, and (b) have any expectation of accommodation of their religious beliefs through formal clubs or organizations.

If Georgetown does not require adherence to the Catholic faith (or acknowledgement of its legitimacy in the Christian community) as a qualification for admission, then the only requirement I see for the university is simply allowing students their own private beliefs, not a formal club supporting their beliefs.

If Georgetown goes the way of SBTS (which is designed for a completely different purpose) and requires some sort of belief statement in agreement with the official stance from each student as a qualification for admission, then the university would have (in my feeble mind) every right to expect adherence to the basic tenants by each student.

Perhaps Georgetown should, instead, go the way of Baylor -- make their secularization official by separating itself from its ecclesiastical roots.

(I have commented anonymously only because I am not a blogger and do not have a website... guess I'm just a vagabond!)