Culture

Will the Tolerance Agenda Destroy Christian Higher Education?

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Last weekend my husband and I visited our son at the little Bible College he attends in Pennsylvania. The school’s website describes it as “a fully-accredited, faith-centered educational institution… committed to providing students with excellence in biblical higher education for effectiveness in global Christian leadership.” The 672 undergraduate students students all dual-major in Bible and their chosen field of concentration to earn Bachelor of Arts degrees.

It’s a lovely little school where most of the students share the school’s biblical values and desire to follow the teachings of the Bible both in the classroom and out. Some are studying to be pastors or missionaries. Others, like our son, an elementary education major, desire to be equipped to take their faith into the world in their chosen professions after graduation. The school doesn’t promote a political agenda, it simply quietly goes about the business of educating young people who desire a Christian education.

As we drove away from the beautiful campus on Sunday, I couldn’t help but wonder how long this school and other conservative Christian schools will survive as the new conformity enforcers continue their march through our country’s institutions.

When the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, Justice Scalia’s dissent warned that “By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.” Scalia said that “it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe.” Though he was specifically speaking of gay marriage — and those shoes have begun to drop across the country —  it’s only a matter of time before the attacks will begin on Christian higher education.

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Schools like my son’s Bible college and other Christian schools around the country teach the traditional biblical view of marriage — that it is between one man and one woman for life. This traditional orthodox Christian belief that had been accepted since our country’s founding has now been declared morally reprehensible by a Supreme Court majority that said opponents of homosexual marriage acted to “disparage and injure” gay couples and to “demean” and to “impose inequality” and a “stigma” upon them. They wanted to deny them “equal dignity,” to declare them as “unworthy,” and to “humiliate” their children.

We’ve begun to see the fallout of this decision as Christian businesses face fines and the loss of their businesses when they refuse to participate in gay weddings. That the weddings conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs and participation would cause them to violate their consciences is a secondary consideration. A New Jersey judge ruled against a Christian retreat center that declined a same-sex couple’s request to use their center for a civil union ceremony. The judge ruled that the Constitution allows “some intrusion into religious freedom to balance other important societal goals.”

It’s now only a matter of time before the federal government’s “social goals” begin to demand that Christian colleges — enemies of human decency — change their views and teachings on homosexuality. There will be demands that the anti-homosexual bigots either cease their “hate speech” or give up their federal funding.

You see, federal funding, through Pell grants and federally subsidized Stafford loans, is the Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of many Christian schools. In 1984 the Supreme Court ruled in Grove City College v. Bell that schools allowing students to attend with the help of federal grants and loans were bound by the Title IX anti-discrimination regulations — past and future. Grove City had argued that the students were receiving the aid, not the school, and said they should be exempted from the onerous federal regulations since they did not receive any direct federal aid. The Supreme Court disagreed and ordered the school to comply with the federal regulations saying,

Congress is free to attach reasonable and unambiguous conditions to federal financial assistance that educational institutions are not obligated to accept…Students affected by the Department’s action may either take their BEOG’s elsewhere or attend Grove City without federal financial assistance. Requiring Grove City to comply with Title IX’s…prohibition of discrimination…infringes no First Amendment rights of the College or its students.

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The next year, in reaction to the new federal dictate, Hillsdale College stopped accepting federal grants and loans, replacing them in many cases with their own institutional aid. Grove City followed four years later.

A 2010 Resolution Against Federal Interference from Hillsdale College said that,

The entanglement of the federal government in the financing of colleges and universities, and the consequent regulation of these institutions by federal agencies, violate the idea of limited government embodied in the Constitution… such violations are inherently corrupt, as seen in attempts of the Department of Education to compel Hillsdale College to count its students by race, in direct violation of the noblest principles of the College and of America.

The resolution warned that, “The Obama Administration and Congress today appear, even more than the worst of their predecessors, bent on extending federal control over American higher education and other areas of American life.”

The federal government can — and often does — attach all kinds of strings to federal funding, running roughshod over individual and states’ rights as Americans give up their freedom in exchange for goodies from the federal trough.

In fact, the Department of Justice explains how serious the federal government is about compliance with the demands of the diversity enforcers in describing the assurances schools must provide when they accept students who receive federal aid:

The assurance must state that the applicant or recipient will comply with all applicable federal statutes relating to nondiscrimination by recipients of federal financial assistance. This includes, but is not limited to, Title IX. The Title IX regulations require that the assurance must contain language that commits the applicant or recipient to undertake whatever remedial action is necessary to eliminate any existing sex discrimination or to eliminate the effects of past discrimination – regardless of whether the discrimination occurred prior to or subsequent to the submission of the assurance.

The open-ended Deptartment of Justice notice warns that schools can be on the hook for complaints of discrimination that occurred a dozen year ago or ten years in the future and can be subject to government remediation.

Really, it will be a simple matter for the federal government to alter Title IX in a way that forces Christian schools to choose between teaching their sincerely held religious beliefs and helping their students to pay for college with federal grants and loans. Title IX has been altered over the years through Executive Orders, Memorandums of Understanding, and orders from the Department of Justice. A president or a government bureaucrat determined to force affirmation of homosexual relationships and marriages as good and equal to traditional marriage can easily use the power of the Administrative State to impose their view on Christian colleges with the swipe of a pen.

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As colleges and universities have increasingly become bastions of institutionalized lock-step leftist dogma, it’s sad to think that conservative Christian schools, which provide needed diversity, may soon begin to disappear from the landscape. Some will likely take the easy way out and modify their doctrines and beliefs to mollify the government nannies. Others will find alternate sources of funding to continue their mission of providing a Christian education based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. Some will be forced to close because their students — many of them children of pastors and missionaries — will be unable to afford the costs of college without federal grants and loans.

In a perfect world, the federal government wouldn’t be meddling in education at all. We wouldn’t have the higher education bubble that distorts the cost of higher education and a student could reasonably expect to “work his way through school,” as we used to say. Though Christian schools and Bible colleges tend to be more affordable than other private institutions, the price tag still puts the schools out of reach for many students without the federal aid. Our son worked full time for a year before attending college, saving almost all of his money, and only managed to save enough to pay for one year. He’ll need our help, student loans, and summer jobs to help him pay for the rest.

I imagine a lot of these schools are discussing their contingency plans for when the feds pull the plug on their students’ financial aid. And it’s not only the financial aid. Federal bureaucrats also have the power to deny schools accreditation, which can also lead to serious consequences. Hillsdale College voluntarily dropped out of Michigan’s teacher accreditation program when the state began to require national accreditation and the regulations were too burdensome for the small school. This will only get worse as the federal government grows more powerful and intrusive.

Whatever you think about Christian education, it’s worth thinking about potential religious liberty issues at stake and whether we want to have a country that pours billions of federal dollars into leftist institutions and leaves any school that disagrees with the government to fend for itself. What will be the cost to our society when the schools that train our pastors and Christian teachers and missionaries have to shutter their doors and higher education becomes almost completely homogenized?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and pretend this can’t happen.

Justice Scalia’s shoe is surely going to drop and it may very well be a size 12 jackboot directly on the necks of Christian colleges.