Thursday, May 11, 2006

Religious universities and the thought police

Religious extremists often like to wrap themselves in the flag and to loudly declare that they are the most patriotic of Americans. What I don’t understand, though, is why many theocons and theocrats don’t support basic American values. Case in point: Brigham Young University’s current investigation – and possible expulsion – of five students for doing nothing more than exercising their Constitutional right to protest.

The university, which is run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is investigating students who participated in an Equality Ride demonstration in April. Four of the five were among 29 people arrested during two days of demonstrations at the Utah campus. The other student protested off campus.

Organized by the nondenominational group Soulforce, The Equality Ride was a cross-country trip designed to draw attention to schools that ban lesbians and gays from enrolling. reports:

The university's Honor Code Office has launched an official probe of the student's conduct. It could clear the students of violating the code or find them guilty and punish them with anything up to expulsion.

While the code does not explicitly bar gay students it does forbid them from having sex or from advocating for a "gay lifestyle."

I would be curious to know if BYU receives any public funding. Private schools can, at times, be rolling in public money. (Note the Kentucky Baptist college that is getting $11 million in state money even though it discriminates against gays.)

However, leaving aside the question of how private any particular religious school might be, the issue under discussion today isn’t a legal one. BYU officials can legally do what they want. My issue, though, is a moral one, or I guess you could call it, a patriotic one.

Isn’t free speech a basic American principle? Isn’t the idea of a Thought Police, whether it is a religious one or a Communist one, a bit un-American? What good does it do for officials at BYU to preach a particular theology if the only way they can get their students to buy into it is to threaten them with explusion if they don't?

What is the honor in that?

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