PROF JENKINS: Of course religious colleges should discriminate

The constant kvetching about 'discrimination' from the left ignores two crucial points: 1) not all discrimination is bad; and 2) faith-based colleges and universities obviously SHOULD discriminate.

Rob Jenkins is a Higher Education Fellow with Campus Reform and a tenured associate professor of English at Georgia State University - Perimeter College. In a career spanning more than three decades at five different institutions, he has served as a head men’s basketball coach, an athletic director, a department chair, and an academic dean, as well as a faculty member. Jenkins’ opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer.   

Once upon a time, those on a particular side of an issue would just find a group they agreed with. Nowadays, leftists seem obsessed with forcing organizations they don’t even like to agree with them.

It’s the ultimate in narcissism.

This mindset is particularly prevalent at religious colleges and universities. Witness the rash of lawsuits and Title IX complaints against faith-based institutions like Baylor University, Brigham Young University, Yeshiva University, and Seattle Pacific University (among others) by “LGBTQ+” advocates crying discrimination.

Fortunately, as Campus Reform reported, Baylor recently won its case—over the objections of Democrat lawmakers. The Department of Education determined “that the belief in or practice of its religious tenets by the University or its students would not constitute unwelcome conduct.” BYU was granted a similar exemption in 2022.

[RELATED: PROF JENKINS: Campus ‘authoritarianism’ is a left-wing phenomenon]

But some of those cases are still ongoing. And the Biden Administration’s new Title IX rules, adding “gender identity” to the list of protected classes, will no doubt make it easier for religious institutions to be sued or sanctioned and more difficult for them to defend themselves or be granted a waiver.

Those new guidelines are currently set to go into effect this month.   

This constant kvetching about “discrimination” from the left ignores two crucial points: 1) not all discrimination is bad; and 2) faith-based colleges and universities obviously SHOULD discriminate. That’s a large part of what makes them private religious institutions as opposed to secular public institutions.

After all, to discriminate—from the Latin discriminare, “to separate”—simply means to distinguish or differentiate, to choose one thing over another. We acknowledge the importance of such choices when we accuse someone who has lived a profligate life of being “indiscriminate” or describe someone with good taste as “discriminating.”

Of course, when it comes to people—choosing one person over another in an academic or professional setting—there are certainly bad reasons to discriminate, such as race or sex. That kind of discrimination is not only morally wrong, it’s often short-sighted, ignoring both inherent worth and earned achievements.

But as a society, we can and must discriminate based on what people do or don’t do. Indeed, we already discriminate on that basis, all the time. We choose to put criminals in jail. We don’t allow people who haven’t passed the driver’s test to get behind the wheel. We “unfollow” or “block” people who annoy us on social media.

Religions, too, have standards of behavior consistent with their beliefs. And they have every right to enforce those standards, thereby “discriminating” against anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs or refuses to abide by them.

Some students, however, choose to attend a religious school, knowing full well the behavioral expectations, then decide they can’t live with those expectations and insist that the school must therefore change its rules just for them.

[RELATED: PROF JENKINS: Leftists are wrong. Western culture is not white supremacy.]

Yet no one forced them to attend that school. They could have gone to plenty of other schools that would have been just as good and also have no problem with whatever they feel like doing.

But they want THAT school to give in to their demands because they’re narcissists and covert saboteurs. What they really want, I believe, is to destroy the school, or at least force it to renounce its own religious precepts, which would in effect destroy it.

The bottom line is that faith-based institutions shouldn’t require an “exemption” from the DOE to practice their religion. They don’t need the government’s permission to discriminate against beliefs and behaviors that are inconsistent with their deeply-held convictions.

That right is firmly guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (emphasis mine). It’s also implicit in the doctrine of “Free Association,” which was unequivocally affirmed by the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama (1958). 

Ultimately, a religious institution that fails to discriminate ceases to be a religious institution. It’s no different from a state school. Yet our society desperately needs such institutions. They add to the rich fabric of our nation while providing a place where young men and women of faith can study in accordance with their beliefs, among likeminded individuals.

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.