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Conformity on campus

"Conformity on campus" Continued...

Issue: "UN: Kofi's crisis," Dec. 18, 2004

FIRE has been involved in more than 600 individual liberty cases on at least 200 college campuses since 1999. Many of those cases included discrimination against Christians.

One case involved Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) and Rutgers University. In September 2002, Rutgers officials banned IVCF from meeting on campus because of the group's policy that leaders must "adhere to biblical standards and belief in all areas of their lives." The school said the policy amounted to discrimination. FIRE sent a letter to the administration, asking it to reverse the decision. When Rutgers refused, FIRE referred the case to the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). ADF filed a lawsuit against Rutgers on behalf of IVCF, saying the school violated the group's rights to freedom of expression, religion, and association. Four months later, in the face of bad publicity, Rutgers relented, and ADF dropped the suit.

A similar showdown occurred earlier this year at Purdue University, where officials threatened to shut down a Christian women's housing group that refused to sign a nondiscrimination policy requiring the group to ignore faith when selecting members. FIRE intervened, sending a letter to university president Martin Jischke, reminding him of the group's First Amendment rights. Mr. Jischke quickly responded, granting the housing cooperative an exemption from the nondiscrimination policy.

Ohio State University, under pressure from ADF, recently made a similar move, agreeing to allow religious student groups to define membership standards apart from a nondiscrimination policy.

But not all universities are so accommodating. ADF recently filed a lawsuit against the University of North Carolina on behalf of Alpha Iota Omega, the only Christian fraternity on campus. UNC revoked AIO's student-organization status last year after the fraternity refused to sign a nondiscrimination clause that would have required the group to admit non-Christians with no interest in the fraternity's primary purpose of evangelism.

"The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that private organizations have the right to determine their own membership," says ADF senior counsel Jordan Lorence. "Requiring the fraternity to sign the policy to obtain benefits holds the fraternity hostage by using their own beliefs against them."

The outcome of religious liberty cases could have an impact beyond the borders of university walls. ADF attorney Joshua Carden says a victory for groups like AIO could extend to churches with tax-exempt status. "If the government were to operate according to UNC's reasoning, police in any state with a nondiscrimination policy could go into churches and demand membership be open to anyone, including non-Christians," Mr. Carden says. "That's UNC's logic writ large." -Jamie Dean

Today's Jungle

If parents of America's college students would all read Tom Wolfe's new novel and come to believe what it says, they would get in their cars, drive to campus, and drag their offspring kicking and screaming from their co-ed dorms, frat houses, and rule-free residence halls. If what Mr. Wolfe says about life at the university is correct and if it becomes known, taxpayers would cut off their subsidies, donors would stop giving, parents would refuse to pay tuition, and all that would be left of once-noble institutions of higher education would be their sports teams.

I am Charlotte Simmons is a work of fiction, and no doubt exaggerates the bad and leaves out much that is good. But Mr. Wolfe's cultural observations cannot be dismissed. He is a social realist, who researches his novels by months of careful observation of his subjects, like an anthropologist studying a primitive culture. For this, his third novel, Mr. Wolfe examines the culture of a major university, doing his field research at Stanford and the Universities of North Carolina, Michigan, Alabama, and Florida.

The novel tells the story of Charlotte Simmons, a bright, idealistic, virtuous young woman from a tiny, mountain community in North Carolina, who makes a perfect score on her SATs and gets a full-ride scholarship to the fictional DuPont University, an elite institution ranked second only to Harvard. Charlotte comes from a blue-collar church-going family whom she dearly loves, but she is thrilled at her opportunity to transcend her humble origins and pursue the life of the mind at one of the best universities in the world.

Then we follow Charlotte's initiation into campus life. She is put in a co-ed dorm, in which men and women share the same communal bathrooms. She is regularly "sexiled," which means kicked out of her dorm room while her roommate is having sex. She is engulfed by the vilest language. Campus dances consist of young men and women grinding their private parts together. Students are constantly drunk.

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