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Restricted areas

"Restricted areas" Continued...

Issue: "Between Hell and Hope," Feb. 12, 2011

The Alliance Defense Fund has sent messages to five different schools with restrictive policies, including Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, which says, "No person shall harass others by sending . . . religiously offensive messages." (Mattox says that, for example, a secular student could find offensive an email that says Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.) On behalf of Students for Life, ADF also sent a letter to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which won FIRE's worst speech code of the year for placing strict restrictions on rallies the school deems controversial.

Mattox said students often don't know their First Amendment rights, which can contribute to a Christian "bunker mentality" on university campuses: "I think part of it comes from not knowing what kind of weapons they do have."

At Northern Illinois University, for instance, one student is fighting discrimination against religious students but he has found no religious allies. Jeremy Orbach, a senior, tried to start a Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter, but the Student Association denied him club status unless he agreed to designate his club as a political club, which gets no funding. And unless he had club status, his group couldn't meet on campus.

Adam Kissel, vice president of programs at FIRE, said it is unconstitutional to fund some clubs and not others. According to the Supreme Court, if schools charge students activity fees, they must allocate the fees equally without discriminating based on club viewpoint. But NIU excludes both political and religious groups from funding-until recently with no written standard of what defined a political or religious group. This meant the Baha'i Club counted as a cultural group and got funding, but InterVarsity Christian Fellowship did not.

Three dozen religious and political groups were facing discriminatory funding practices, so Orbach emailed them to recruit allies. One club president emailed Orbach back to say that he was making a nuisance of himself and should be raising money for his club instead of bothering the administration. Another president expressed sympathy but reacted with anger when Orbach mentioned the club publicly. I emailed several religious groups to ask what they thought of Orbach's case that they were facing discrimination, but none of the presidents answered. Only the Atheist, Agnostics and Freethinkers-also defined as a religious group-was interested in helping Orbach's cause.

Palm Beach State's Beattie, whose lawsuit is still pending, has faced the temptation to give up: "Sometimes I would get discouraged and say maybe this isn't God's will for me and maybe this isn't something that should happen." But she took encouragement from YAF's Diaz, who told her not to feel guilty: "You have a right to do this."

No Christians need apply?

A University of Kentucky faculty member warned her colleagues in an email she sent about a potential employee: "Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with-but potentially evangelical." Astronomer Martin Gaskell, the man in question, sued the University of Kentucky for choosing not to hire him because of his Christian beliefs. In a rare outcome, the university settled the case for $125,000.

In 2007, Gaskell applied for the position of Observatory Director at the university. The search committee's email exchanges reveal that Gaskell was the leading candidate for the job until faculty discovered that Gaskell was an evangelical Christian who had spoken publicly about the theory of evolution. Even though Gaskell does not describe himself as a "creationist," the search committee debated his religious beliefs and quizzed him about how his beliefs affected his work.

The Civil Rights Act bans employer discrimination on the basis of religion, but Gaskell's attorney, Frank Manion, said it is rare to find such plentiful evidence of discrimination. When Manion told Gaskell to expect a FedEx package containing UK's relevant documents, Gaskell said he was expecting a few pieces of paper: "And to my amazement there were maybe 200, 300 pages of paper in that envelope, and just about the only thing they were talking about is my religious beliefs." In one email, Gaskell's lone defender protested that Gaskell's qualifications far outweighed his competitors': "The real reason we will not offer him this job is because of his religious beliefs."

Gaskell hopes that his case will increase academic freedom and make people realize, "It is intellectually OK to be a Christian. . . . There are many scientists who are Christians and I am not unusual. In fact I regard myself as a very ordinary scientist and a very ordinary Christian."

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