Saturday, February 28, 2009

God and Man and U., Part 2

For cases of religious discrimination on campus, readers may consult web sites operated by watchdog groups that defend religious freedom. For some of these groups it is a core mission, but for others it is one of many civil liberties issues:

FIRE: See their guide to religious liberty.

Alliance Defense Fund: One of the top lawyers for FIRE, David French, left to help with this aggressive organization. They can help you with a case of religious discrimination, find local counsel, or seek out similar public interest groups in your region of the USA.

Anti-Defamation League: ADL is actively fighting anti-Semitism on many fronts, including the campaign to battle academic boycotts of Israel. It is a sad state of affairs when thousands of scholars (myself included) have to sign a petition opposing a boycott of the country allowing the freest expression of opinion and religion in the Middle East. There is no such boycott of Iran or other Muslim nations that sharply restrict religious and academic freedom. Read this Freedom House report.

Here is Freedom House's report on Israel rating it "Free." Reports on Egypt and Iran are also available, along with annual reports on every country in the world.

Catholic League: Many years ago, someone quipped that anti-Catholicism was the "last respectable bigotry." The Catholic League is that religion's equivalent of the Anti-Defamation League. Search their site for "academic" (without the quotes) and you will find many items.

The oldest organization in America on this issue is the

ACLU: Often accused of promoting "freedom from religion" (rather than freedom of religion), the organization does take on cases that protect the rights of the religious, as well as the atheist.

Friday, February 20, 2009

God and Man and U., Part 1

Every crisis provides "teachable moments": lessons forgotten or neglected in more placid times. Americans are now (re)learning the dangers of

"Moral hazard": the notion that people take excessive risk if they know they will be bailed out. Think Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, banks, S&L's (1980s), and the housing industry.

"Too-big-to-fail" principle: hence, the first in line for bailout money are the titans of finance (Citigroup, AIG) or the "Big Three" (not so big any more). Is this moral? Pundits are embroiled in debates over this very question.

This crisis is no different when it comes to economics or academic freedom. That brings us to the concept of

"Crossover sanctions": "force the implementation of federal requirements in one area or the states risk losing money in another, similar area. For instance, states may lose highway grants if they failed to follow certain health or safety requirements imposed by the federal government."

Some well-known crossover sanctions include the federal requirement that all states lower their maximum speed limit to 55 (since repealed) or raise the drinking age to 21. Crossover sanctions grew enormously from the 1970s onward, as Congress discovered the splendid power of "attaching strings" to federal aid. This has worked a quiet revolution in the relationship between the federal and state governments. "He who pays the bills calls the tunes."

So, what does this have to do with higher education? A lot.

The latest stimulus act, with billions for higher education, has come with some "crossover sanctions." One of the issues was whether the money violated the religious freedom of students on campuses. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)introduced an amendment "to allow the free exercise of religion at institutions of higher education that receive funding. . . ."

DeMint was responding to the following section of the act (the Demint amendment failed on a 43-54 roll call vote):
(2) PROHIBITED USES OF FUNDS.—No funds awarded under this section may be used for—(A) the maintenance of systems, equipment, or facilities, including maintenance associated with any permissible uses of funds described in paragraph (1); (B) modernization, renovation, or repair of stadiums or other facilities primarily used for athletic contests or exhibitions or other events for which admission is charged to the general public; (C) modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities— (i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission; or (D) construction of new facilities.
The usual suspects roared forth with the usual vitriol: The Right claimed that godless liberals and the ACLU were trying to scrub religion from the public square. The Left shouted back that the conservatives were a bunch of know-nothing theocrats.

The civil liberties group FIRE took a middle-of-the-road stance: Detailing concerns with the vague language, while urging a simple amendment--one that apparently was too "controversial" for passage.

The truth is state universities don't need this current law to restrict religious expression on campus. In fact, they have already found ways to punish, reprimand, and "decertify" Christian, Muslim, and Jewish groups on campus.

That is a story for my next post.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Right to Blog: The Law for Students and Staff -- and Cops

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has several good web sites explaining the right of students to express themselves on blogs:

and for state college faculty and staff:

Since one out of five students blog, and a great many faculty and staff blog as well, these are useful primers on First Amendment Rights.

EFF also discusses your right to an anonymous blog: the contentious issue challenged by police groups and others who do not like sites such as or

For more on the efforts of police to shut down cop-rating blogs, see this article.

Perhaps your campus newspaper could do a story on student and staff blogs? Do they educate? Go over the line? What role do they play in college student and faculty life? The new "virtual diary" of the 21st century? Or will all your "status updates" go up in smoke when you shut down your Facebook account?