If you are a high-school senior, chances are these days you’re spending a lot of time beside your physical or virtual mailbox—stuffing it with college applications composed in the dead of night after calculus is done, or waiting anxiously for that thin oversized envelope signaling “yes” to early admission.
If you are that senior’s parents, you are spending some sleepless nights wondering on his or her behalf what the future holds and where that future will take place—and more anxiously eyeing your checkbook than your mailbox. I’ve been there, I will be there again, and I have some bad news: College campuses across the country are becoming by the day a toxic environment for Christian families. Enter with your eyes open and at your own risk.
The financial risk—a year at an in-state university with room and board now costs on average $17,860—is not a student’s or his family’s greatest peril. Far greater is the danger, having made that sort of commitment, he will find expression for his deepest beliefs and affiliations shut down. The latest example: Tufts University in Massachusetts, where in October students voted to “de-recognize” Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF), the largest evangelical group on the 10,000-student campus and an affiliate of one of the oldest campus ministries in the country, InterVarsity.
This is but the latest in a string of campus moves to silence Christian voice and witness, but here’s what’s especially sinister about what happened at Tufts: The case stemmed from no specific charges against current or former members of the organization, and no specific violations of campus policy by TCF. The student body’s Community Union Judiciary opposed the group’s requirement that its leaders adhere to the “basic Biblical truths of Christianity,” student government members told the Boston Globe on Oct. 26.
The charges came from Tufts Coalition Against Religious Exclusion, which published an editorial in the student newspaper accusing the Tufts Christian Fellowship of “hate speech” because of its beliefs about homosexuality—and calling for the school to stop funding the group with student activity fees for such “bigotry.”
InterVarsity believes the strategy at Tufts will prompt similar challenges at other campuses, national field director Greg Jao told WORLD on Campus (worldoncampus.com, our campus news affiliate and a great place to follow these stories): “This is part of the larger renegotiation of how we understand religion in our culture.” The attacks on college Christian groups, said Jao, continue to push faith out of the public square and into the private space of homes and places of worship.
The problem with forcing religion into private chambers is at least twofold. First, it deprives others of the life-giving witness and teaching that is Christianity at its abundant best. Religious expression pushed to the edges and closets of life makes its adherents second-class citizens who over time will face job and other discrimination: Just ask Christians living in the Middle East.
Second, it’s unconstitutional. Our First Amendment freedom of religion comes entwined with the freedom of speech and the freedom to form associations with those who are like-minded (see NAACP v. Alabama, and others). What problems lie ahead for our society when those freedoms don’t extend to Christians on college campuses, where over 70 percent of current high-school students will spend some of their most mind-shaping, socially intensive, pattern-setting years?
The process of getting into college in America entangles—as Andrew Ferguson put it so well in his book Crazy U—“our deepest yearnings, our vanities, our social ambitions and class insecurities, and most profoundly our love and hopes for our children, with the largest questions of democracy, of equality, fairness, opportunity, the social good, even the nature of happiness.”
It’s easy to lose one’s way in that landscape, and many of us parents reconcile ourselves to paying tuition at a college that challenges our deepest held beliefs because there are on-campus ministries that promise Christian community, and perhaps intellectual refuge, for our children. My advice: Don’t count on it.