Ray 3-19-2013

My Word: Rollins College versus religious liberty?

robert ray(Orlando Sentinel, March 19, 2013)

By Robert J. Ray

The headline was jolting: “Rollins boots religious group, says it violates anti-bias policy” (Orlando Sentinel, March 8). The article said the group was kicked off campus “for requiring its student leaders to be Christian and promote certain conservative beliefs.”

What? An on-campus organization, founded to promote conservative religious values, gets the boot just because it requires its officers to adhere to those values? Something’s wrong with this picture, right?

So I went to Google. I discovered that similar issues have arisen at other schools, triggered by similar anti-discrimination policies. In fact, on June 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the University of California Hastings College of the Law was within its rights to withhold funding from a Christian group that discriminated against gays.

Justice John Paul Stephens wrote in an opinion concurring with the majority that student organizations were free to embrace discriminatory values, but the law school “need not subsidize [such groups], give them its official imprimatur, or grant them equal access to law school facilities.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, noted that all students at UC Hastings pay a mandatory fee that’s used to fund registered on-campus student organizations. Students shouldn’t be forced to contribute to the funding of any group that would deny them membership, she contended.

The anti-discrimination policies of Rollins College state that every on-campus student organization must allow all students to be eligible for both membership and leadership. No exceptions.

Such rigid anti-discrimination policies may be good or bad. They potentially create bizarre scenarios, such as an atheist leading a Christian club. But according to the high court, schools have the right to articulate the values and set the policies that govern their resource allocation. Student organizations can comply or operate off campus on their own dime.

It’s a problem many faith-based organizations likewise face in dealing with state and federal government. They like government money. They don’t like the strings that are attached.

But be it the government or Rollins College, requiring compliance to policy is neither persecution nor discrimination. It’s simply proof of the truism that “the one who pays the piper calls the tune.”

Robert J. Ray, a risk-management consultant, is a member of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.