Colleges Use Religious Freedom as a Trump Card, and It’s Got to Stop

College can be a formative time in a person’s life. For a lot of people, it’s the first time they live even quasi-independently. It’s the first time they get to experience the world without the protection of adults. During college, the world starts to unfold as the wonderful and unfair place it is. Some LGBTQ-identifying students are getting an extra dose of that lesson.

While society by and large has become more accepting of LGBTQ people over the last few decades, it seems Christian institutions have been frozen in carbonite. And, as LGBTQ rights have gained steam in the past decade, the more some religious denominations have dug in their heels. However, they’ve gone beyond just preaching that homosexuality is a sin from the pulpit. Christian colleges and universities are getting into the game.

This isn’t necessarily anything new, but a spate of new allegations in just a few days shows just how widespread the problem really is. Hiding-behind-religion-so-you-can-discriminate-freely is the new black.

For example, Southwestern Christian University in Oklahoma expelled a student for getting married to another woman. The student, Christian Minard, was one semester away from graduation. The university claims that Minard violated the university’s “Lifestyle Covenant.” Minard married her partner in New Mexico, a state that has come out of the dark ages and has hopped on the marriage equality bandwagon. When the university found out, well, you know how this story ends.

That’s not the only story of a university being kind of jerky toward their LGBTQ people. The recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision has opened the door for Christian universities to claim that there must be a religious exemption from treating queer students as full humans. Gordon College in Massachusetts has used the Hobby Lobby decision to argue that they should be exempt from an executive order baring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. (A position the university is apparently ready to lose it’s accreditation over.) And now George Fox University in Oregon has gotten the Department of Education’s approval to discriminate against a transgender student. Rather than let him live in a single-sex dorm, they are providing a single apartment. Because letting a transman live with other men is basically the biggest threat to their religion since forever.

You might think that, yes, these are all stories of injustices perpetrated on LGBTQ people. But these are private Christian colleges. If you don’t want to follow their code of conduct, there are a lot of other choices. I hear you. But here’s the thing. This is not really about religion. I’m sure there are people who think it is, but it isn’t. It’s about power. It’s in the Gospel of Luke’s parable of the faithful servant that Jesus says, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.” Or, if you’d prefer a Spiderman reference, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

There are interesting and difficult questions regarding where one set of rights ends and another begins. One thing, really the primary thing, we need to keep in mind is whether or not there is an imbalance of power. The line between exercising your religion freely and enforcing your religion upon others can be blurry, but it is there. These universities have tremendous power over the lives of their students and employees and that’s not something that can be ignored when universities start using religious freedom as an excuse to discriminate.

I’m willing to bet that most students don’t enroll in Christian colleges with the express purpose of flagrantly disregarding the school’s codes of conduct. Religious freedom is important, but there are competing values of equality, education, and non-discrimination. Religious freedom is not a trump card. It’s time we stop treating it that way.

Image credit: peasap via Flickr


Vicky P.
Vicky P.2 years ago

religion or not, no one should be able to be a bigot and discriminate, being religious shouldn't be a card that you can pull out to be an asshole to anyone not of your religion, to women, or to gay people

Magdalena J.
Past Member 2 years ago


Tim W.
Timothy W.2 years ago

Darryll G.
It's not private if it gets funding from the government, and lets not forget that the guaranteed student loans come from tax payers. No institution that wants to claim exemption from discrimination laws should be allowed to receive funds or assistance from the tax payers. Let their church pay.

I would never want to hire someone who graduated from a school that taught, promoted and insisted on bigotry.

Darryll Green
Darryll Green2 years ago

Winn-BULL, this is a private Christian collage

Original Message:

Winn left a comment on the following article:
Colleges Use Religious Freedom as a Trump Card, and It's Got to Stop
This is wrong.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams2 years ago

This is wrong.

Tim W.
Timothy W.2 years ago

I wonder how these strongly held beliefs would be affected if they began to find major business' not wanting to hire people who were educated by such close minded non inclusive institutions. Would a major employer who believed strongly in inclusiveness and treating all it's employees with respect want to hire someone who believed it was excepted to be exclusive and to treat others poorly for not being believing the same religious beliefs as themselves.

Sure as long as the institution doesn't receive my tax dollars I say let them be as bigoted as they like, but they should remember others have strongly held beliefs that might exclude them as well.

Apple has a very inclusive nondiscrimination policy. I wonder how many of those people who claim they don't do business with people who condone homosexuality walk around with iPhones of how many students at these schools use Apple computers. How many listen to their music on their Apple iPods?

They follow their so called strongly held beliefs when it is convenient to them, but when those beliefs get in the way of what they want the forget those beliefs. It's interesting to me that it seems their strongly held religious beliefs only seem to matter so strongly to them when they provide them with the ability to discriminate.

Tim W.
Timothy W.2 years ago

If a school is going to be allowed to discriminate based on their strongly held beliefs, then the school should also not be allowed any assistance from government.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

To me that sounds like the government should not be applying tax payer money to these religious establishments. That would be respecting the establishment of religion. It also should not be able to tell them to join the new century with the rest of us, but if they want to hold on to their beliefs they need to do it on their own and rely on their god and followers to fund their establishments.

Why would some one go to a school that discriminates against them. Many go where their family send them.

David Greensmith
David Greensmith2 years ago

A second PM from Darryl:
dude- you really need to go back and study history, where do you think the underground railroad came from, Abraham Lincoln was a christian, the baptist and methodists were in the lead of abolishing slavery, religion was the catalists that help end slavery
Ah, Darryl, here you go again, cherry picking. You cherry pick from your Bible, you cherry pick from your country's constitution and you cherry pick from history. All with sufficient selective bias that the narrow focus supports your view. Although there were plenty of Christians who fought against slavery, there were more than enough others who justified slavery by quoting Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:9 or other parts of their scripture. It's ironic that you don't see the parallels today with the way some Christians preach inclusion of gay people based on the inclusive preaching of Jesus, whilst other continue to focus on Leviticus and Romans to justify their bigotry. Darryl, like the 19th century slave owners who claimed their bibles showed them slavery was right, you and your fellow bigots are on the wrong side of history.

David Greensmith
David Greensmith2 years ago

ctd 2
So, whilst we're on the subject of quoting bits of the US Constitution, here's a bit from the document that kicked it all off, the Declaration of Independence - "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal". There you are - a country founded on the single idea that all human beings are created equal. That means equal rights and protection from being oppressed by those born into privilege. So sad that your hatred denies you access to such a beautiful idea.

David Greensmith
David Greensmith2 years ago

You do, of course, have every right to call what someone else does "sin" - you're even free to capitalise it in a PM, should you wish. (The only slight caveat I would offer here is that, if you're a Christian, condemning someone else as a sinner sounds awfully like you're "judging" them. Jesus did have something to say about that.) Still - you're free to consider someone else's "lifestyle" or "choice" or whatever you want to call it as not for you. You don't even have to agree with it. What you're not allowed to do is oppress people just because you don't like them. As you say - your country's First Amendment protects freedom of religion. So you're free to believe what you want and I, if I lived in your country as well, would be just a free to scoff at the nonsense of its magic stories and arbitrary rules. No one is saying that you can't practise your religion. You are not being prevented from saying you disagree with anything. What is being said is that you can't oppress someone just because their religious beliefs don't match yours. Actually, that's what the First Amendment is protecting and it's a shame it takes a foreigner to point that out to you. You're trying to use religious freedom as a smokescreen to deny other members of society their rights. So, whilst we're on the subject of quoting bits of the US Constitution, here's a bit from the document that kicked it all off, the Declaration of Independence - "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are