Separation of Church and State in Schools: Campus Clubs and Grants (2020)
What happens when freedom of religion conflicts with the freedom of other individuals?
The Issue in 2020
A recent draft from the Trump administration rule has higher education lobbyists concerned about the treatment of both religious clubs and the LGBTQ+ community on campuses. In short, the draft rule raises an ongoing conflict between church and state, thereby calling the freedom of religion into question as some religious clubs have barred the admittance and the establishment of LGBTQ+ individuals as club leaders due to their personal religious beliefs.
As a consequence, this choice for some colleges is seen as discriminatory and a violation against human rights and therefore, have halted certain religious clubs from receiving funding. In response, these religious groups on campus have sued their colleges for religious discrimination and violation against their freedom of beliefs.
For example, the Business Leaders in Christ of the University of Idaho sued their school as they were denied recognition for not allowing a gay student to become vice president. Similarly, for the Christian Legal Society at UC Berkeley, who was also denied recognition for publicly stating their belief that marriage and sexual activity outside of a relationship between a man and a woman should not be allowed.
Should religious clubs with beliefs that exclude a certain group of people be recognized and receive grants?
If the state governments were to deem religious freedom priority over the LGBQT+ rights, then there will be a risk of lessening the diversity on campus and reinforcement of discrimination and prejudice against a certain group of individuals.
Yet, if they prioritize the rights of the LGBQT+ community then the religious clubs will continue to sue the colleges for religious “persecution” as their beliefs would not be considered respected nor recognized.
Ultimately, Trump’s administration would favor the religious freedom of certain clubs. However, it would also increase tensions between federal and state governments as President Trump’s proposed rule conflicts with state law’s non-discrimination policies.
If universities and colleges are unwilling to abide by this law then they could lose millions of dollars in federal grants which jeopardizes their ability to maintain their campuses and quality of education and research.
What does this mean for individuals who practice faith?
Providing education to all individuals regardless of gender, sexuality, or religion is the priority of these higher education institutions, therefore, if a student’s learning experience is hindered by bias and bigotry then it is natural to assume the school would favor those marginalized. However, the school’s decision to preserve the human rights of LGBTQ+ individuals may appear as favoritism as the requirement of accepting all individuals may require some religious groups to go against their personal beliefs.
While the constitution of the United States protects the freedom of religion and explicitly states that there shall be no law specifically inhibiting the practice of a religion, that does not necessarily mean that Congress should allow religious beliefs to impede the lives of others who may not follow the same belief system.
The delicate balance of maintaining religious freedom without having the state overstep its boundaries with the church is difficult and is often subjective depending upon the public’s perspective. As policy is often dictated by public opinion, the protection of religious freedom is subjected to change depending upon current sentiment.
With human rights issues concerning the LGBTQ+ community and other minorities as part of the mainstream media today, various policies are more likely to favor providing protection over human rights over religious freedom.
Allowing public higher education institutions to base club recognition on nondiscrimination policies can prevent these religious groups from receiving grants or holding events on campus. However, this puts the religious groups in a difficult position as they are forced to either compromise their commitment to their beliefs or try to find other means of funding.
Some religious groups may have reason to sue if they feel as though the college is purposefully hindering their religious expression. President Trump’s proposed rule would allow these religious organizations to file for funding without fearing discrimination against their beliefs, as religion should not be a determining factor for a financial reward.
Which side is the side of ‘rights’?
In contrast, under the former President Obama’s administration, many churches and religious schools were restricted from receiving taxpayer money. The affiliation between politics and religion is often detrimental as politicians use certain religious beliefs to gain the favor of the public when even they themselves neglect to carry out such practices in their own lives.
For President Trump’s proposed rule, it does serve as protection for religious groups as it prevents public colleges and universities from preventing the recognition of religious groups based on their judgement of their beliefs.
However, it is simultaneously assisting and encouraging the discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, therefore to avoid displeasing either side, each case should be determined on a state level. Going case by case rather than using federal law to push an agenda will allow for opposing parties to participate in active discussion with one another to reach a common understanding.
Where should the decision lie?
In a country priding itself on protecting and upholding the ideologies of freedom, power rests among the people.
To prevent the conflict of religious freedom and human rights, the federal government should remain separate of local issues regarding religion as reinforcing religious freedom may backfire and appear oppressive. By allowing the universities and religious groups to settle their differences, it prevents any one group from having too much political power and authority to push their judgements upon the other.
As it is the people at the local level who are the most affected, therefore, the decision on how to handle whether a club is recognized based on its religious beliefs should remain between those who are involved.
The concept of freedom can be very fickle within the boundaries of religious freedom and human rights as some beliefs may interfere with the treatment and acceptance of others, especially those within the LGBTQ+ community. At which point, policies can favor upholding one side over the other depending upon the political party in office.
Yet, despite the differing perspectives on who can or cannot receive funding, the decision should remain at the local level to avoid further government intervention upon religious organizations. These proposed policies may help religious groups receive funding as they are more likely to be treated as other secular groups, however, these rules are expected to meet fierce opposition by other human rights organizations who see it as a threat to the LGBTQ+ community.