Column: Religious rights also important
Another year, another Coming Out Week. And with a majority of states allowing same-sex marriage for the first time, a lot has changed since just last year.
That means it’s officially time to talk about something that has long been ignored: the sometimes-tension between religious rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning rights.
This fall, the California State University system removed the official club status of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship across its 23 campuses, partly because the organization’s charter prevented non-celibate gay people from holding positions of leadership. The tension arises from a state law that CSU, as a state university, must enforce.
“InterVarsity requires leaders to sign a statement of faith, and that violates not only California State policy, but also state law,” Mike Uhlenkamp, director of public affairs at the chancellor’s office, told USA Today. “They want their leaders to have specific values. If you force someone to sign a form, you are discriminating by making them say they are a Christian.”
The InterVarsity policy requires its leaders to affirm the “doctrinal basis” of Christianity, and InterVarsity includes a condemnation of homosexual lifestyles within this doctrinal basis. According to InterVarsity’s website, “While we applaud inclusivity, we believe that faith-based communities like ours can only be led by people who clearly affirm historic Christian doctrine.”
It makes sense that a Christian organization would expect its members to be authentically Christian, according to that organization’s definition of authenticity and Christianity.
There should be no unreasonable limits set by a university on an organization whose mission is to advance the rights of LGBTQ people. But neither should there be an unreasonable policy preventing religious groups from authentically advancing their mission with people in leadership who are practicing believers.
This is just one example where religious freedom and the rights and inclusion of LGBTQ people conflict.
Greg Daniels, co-director of ASUA Pride Alliance, said the CSU regulation seemed reasonable because on-campus organizations often receive state and university funding. “I would say if [the religious group] were not funded by the school, it might not be as big of an issue,” Daniels said.
Daniels brings up a good point: Many religious organizations receive government funding, including those religious groups that benefit from being recognized as a student organization on a college campus. In the case of CSU InterVarsity, the revocation of its official status could cost it thousands of dollars a year in rent for meeting rooms that would have otherwise been heavily discounted.
So as rights for LGBTQ people spread and anti-discrimination laws become more popular, we must answer the question of whether groups that receive government funding should be forced to make compromises, like InterVarsity in California.
While I understand the need for LGBTQ people to be rightly included in our society and culture, I think certain exemptions for religious groups must be made that prevent them from having to compromise their deeply-held religious beliefs.
CSU makes exemptions for sororities and fraternities to discriminate on the basis of gender. We ought to recognize that religion is just as central to a creedal organization like InterVarsity as gender is for a greek organization. Ending discrimination against LGBTQ people should not mean the beginning of discrimination for religious people.
Society must create spaces where the dignity of LGBTQ people is respected. Nonetheless, religious groups, such as InterVarsity, need to be kept from having to compromise what they believe in. Inclusion for LGBTQ people and religious rights for people and their affiliated organizations need not conflict. Making space in the public sphere, especially in colleges and universities, for both groups should be everyone’s mission.
After all, as we make strides toward greater justice in our country, it bears repeating that threats to justice anywhere are threats to justice everywhere.
Casey Hoyack is a philosophy, politics, economics & law senior. Follow him on Twitter.