by Bethany Glock
If you pay attention to current events, you’ll likely find religious liberty issues at least once a week. Usually, the arguments boil down similarly: an institution or individual wants to preserve the right to religious liberty and avoid violating their conscience, and the state or other individuals is trying to force them to violate it. On the other side is someone asserting that their right to homosexual marriage or abortion overrules that. The issues are controversial but not terribly complicated.
Religious liberty looks a little more fuzzy when the matter effects religious universities and and appears to put at odds two First Amendment rights: freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Take, for example, the cases of Saint Louis University and Georgetown University, both Roman Catholic, Jesuit universities. In early March, a group at SLU invited Roxane Gay, a noted feminist and author, to speak on campus. According to Gay, both a student in the organization that invited her and the university’s assistant vice president reminded her before her speech that she was at a Catholic university and requested that she not discuss her pro-abortion views. She did not oblige. At Georgetown, Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards has been invited to speak in April, and there has been significant public outcry.
Both speakers promote abortion, which the Roman Catholic Church opposes, as does the LCMS, but cancelling the events could be seen as restricting free speech on campus (though that is allowed on private campuses). As is often argued with regard to free speech at public universities, students should have their ideas challenged and face opposing views as part of their education. Yet, I do not believe that we are obligated to support such speakers at Christian universities, be they Lutheran or Roman Catholic. Is this hypocritical? I do not believe so.
Christian universities are responsible both for providing students with good educations and teaching the Christian faith. Universities cannot prevent individuals from holding and speaking out about views with which they do not agree, and they cannot prevent students from seeking out and listening to those people. However, they can say, “Not here. Not on our campus, not with our funds, and not in our facilities meant for teaching students about more than what the world teaches.” In these cases, it is not that we believe that freedom of religion overrules freedom of speech, but rather we believe that religious institutions ought to remain faithful to their beliefs and politely ask that those who would lead their students astray take their message elsewhere.
Bethany Glock is an LCMS Free to be Faithful Young Adult Ambassador.