New evidence has brought greater credibility to the old truism that multicultural tolerance excludes the campus’ greatest religious pariah, the Christian evangelical. While some students-rights advocates, such as the Foundation for International Rights in Education (FIRE), have long argued that evangelicals face religious persecution on campus, a new study released by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research (IJCR) reinforces these claims. IJCR found that 53% of college faculty reported neutral or negative feelings toward evangelicals, making evangelical fundamentalism the most stigmatized faith on campus.
What is surprising about the May 2007 IJCR study is that it was not designed to reveal anti-evangelical bias. Rather, it was meant to detect anti-semitism on campus. Using a random sample acquired from the direct marketing firm MKTG Services, IJCR asked professors to fill out a survey detailing their religious beliefs, frequency of religious attendance, 2004 voting record, and other variables. However, the study revealed an unexpected outcome: Jews and Buddhists received the warmest feelings among all minorities on campus, with 73% of faculty favorable toward Jews and 68% of professors supporting Buddhists.
Out of a sample of 1,269 professors, 71% of these educators agreed that “This country would be better off if Christian fundamentalists kept their religious beliefs out of politics.” The disapproval of political Christian fundamentalism correlated significantly with liberal ideology. 92% of liberal professors agreed that Christian fundamentalists should dissociate their political and religious beliefs. Two-thirds of moderates and only one-quarter of conservatives opposed politically-active Christian fundamentalism. The survey also reported professors are “Twice as likely as the general public to identify as liberal.” This concentrates anti-fundamentalist prejudices on American campuses, where evangelicals are much less likely find a sympathetic leadership when facing discrimination.
The combination of anti-evangelical prejudices and inadequate institutional protections have led to pervasive abuses on campus, in which evangelical pariahs lose their rights to assemble, are socially excluded, or lose funding with little to no explanation. The implications of these religious freedom violations are stunning.
“We’ve been blacklisted,” Ethan Wingfield, the president of a Brown University evangelical club, told FIRE in late 2006. “A message went out to all the university offices that they were not to provide us with services of any kind – not even use of a copy machine or a stapler.” Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) unexpectedly lost its student organization status on Sept. 13, 2006. University officials offered contradictory reasons for the suspension, first falsely claiming that Trinity Presbyterian Church had withdrawn its sponsorship, then citing late paperwork. When RUF and Trinity Church leadership both protested Brown’s decision, Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life (OCRL) Director Janet Cooper Nelson accused RUF of “a leadership culture of contempt and dishonesty that has rendered all colleagial [sic] relations with my office impossible” [sic] especially due to the club’s “willful failure to be respectful and transparent in its dealings with OCRL.”
Luke Sheahan, author for Family Security Matters, argued in his November 20, 2006 article that “The antipathy toward conservative religious beliefs displayed by the Brown Office of Religious Life is only a microcosm of a general distaste for traditional Christian beliefs at American universities.”
Evangelicals violating the current multicultural mantra place themselves outside the institutional protections on the campus. Having declared their devotion to absolute standards, they are allowed to coexist with other campus students only so long they as they don’t contradict the university’s nondiscrimination requirements or speech standards—even if those standards are unconstitutional.
Bethany Stotts is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.