An anti-discrimination clause … who would ever oppose that? At face value, certainly no one would support discrimination. The answer is so trivial that The Sun’s editorial board chose to adopt Bush’s “with us or against us” mentality on the Campus Code of Conduct, claiming a code without an anti-discrimination clause “inherently accepts” discrimination.
Of course, if the issue really was that simple, I would not have much of a column to write. However, those familiar with the euphemisms of academia can easily discern where this argument might go wrong. Everything sounds good in principle, but the devil is in the details.
We have all heard that saying before, but it holds special relevance in this situation. The University Assembly’s proposed anti-discrimination clause was not put forth because the Assembly woke up one day with a burning desire to end all discrimination. The primary impetus was the decision of Chi Alpha, a Christian fellowship, to remove Chris Donohue from its leadership for espousing beliefs on homosexuality, which clearly contradicted with its doctrines.
In Christian theology, marriage was instituted by God, not by man, between a man and a woman. Men are not greater than God and theologically (I make no claims about marriage on a secular level) cannot modify an institution created by God. As a corollary, it follows that the actions God condones within marriage will never be condoned for homosexual couples.
Even though Chris Donahue’s removal dealt with a slightly different issue than the one I described, it still exposed the existence of irreconcilable conflicts with religion. This is neither the first nor last time such conflicts will happen, and these conflicts are not limited to Christianity.
At the top of the article, we made a claim that discrimination was bad. Now we must instead argue that it is comparatively worse than violating both Chi Alpha’s freedom of religion and freedom of association. Saying discrimination is bad is like saying 75 is a bad score on a test without knowing the mean score for the class.
Some would quickly pull out the church and state card, but under that argument, all religious organizations would have to be defunded a priori based solely on their religious status. It is an entirely different argument to say that Cornell should pick and choose a posteriori which religious organizations it will fund based on how socially acceptable their doctrines are. Such discrimination amounts to the state imposing its views on the church, threatening freedom of religion.
Another simple yet wrong argument, one which The Sun posed in an editorial, argues for the distinction between words and actions. In this respect, The Cornell Review’s offensive articles and Chi Alpha’s actions are supposedly different. However, Chi Alpha did not act against people outside their organization; they acted within their organization. Internal actions are protected by freedom of association.
Furthermore, The Sun claimed that the lack of a strong anti-discrimination clause violates free expression because it “promotes an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.” I am absolutely sure that no minority would ever argue that the Cornell Review’s presence creates this atmosphere. Nope, never!
In determining what qualifies as free expression, a better distinction than “words vs. actions” would be the one established by the Supreme Court in Roberts v. United States Jaycees, a case that also dealt with an anti-discrimination law. In a unanimous decision, the court supported an organization’s freedom of association, which “plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate.” It stated that there is “no clearer example of an intrusion” than meddling in an organization’s internal affairs, and that doing so “may impair the ability of the original members to express only those views that brought them together.”
While this freedom is not absolute, infringements of it must serve purposes “unrelated to the suppression of ideas.” Since the Jaycees did not have the flavor of a “purely young men’s association,” nor did they advocate distinctly male ideas, the Supreme Court upheld the application of Minnesota’s anti-discrimination against them, forcing them to admit women. In the case of Chi Alpha, though, there was a clear intent to suppress theological ideas considered socially unacceptable, ideas deeply embedded in the theological doctrine of the organization.
Now if only we had a Campus Code of Conduct that would make that distinction. Since Cornell so emphatically advocates diversity, I am sure it would recognize that such a code is essential for, in the Supreme Court’s own words, “preserving political and cultural diversity.”
(I acknowledge Cornell is a private institution and is not legally bound by this decision. But if it thinks itself wiser than our courts and our Constitution, I would love to hear the rationale.)
In further attempt to get Cornell to “succumb to pressures from outside organizations,” FIRE’s response to The Sun’s editorial has cited this court case and others to support their cause. Other opponents of this anti-discrimination clause include Dr. Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center — the same First Amendment that includes The Sun’s freedom of the press.
This First Amendment Center also recently stood up for a young boy’s refusal to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance because he believed America lacked liberty and justice for gays and lesbians. Likewise, while he did not withhold hard theological truths from Chris Donohue, campus chaplain Matt Herman “agreed that we did not want our friendship to change and clarified that he was not being asked to leave Chi Alpha.” Even the Mormon Church, now infamous for its role in the passage of Proposition 8 in California, has also supported ordinances in its home state, banning discrimination against homosexuals for housing and employment.
Are these truly the faces of those who promote “an atmosphere of fear and intimidation”? Or does The Sun’s caricature — and even worse caricatures by others — instead set up a large straw man grossly misrepresenting the opposition? Perhaps these people and I do support evil policies allowing discrimination. Or perhaps the real evil, the devil, is once again in the details.
Mike Wacker, a senior in the College of Engineering, is a former Sun Assistant Web Editor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wack Attack appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.