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Stanley Fish's Being Neutral Is Oh So Hard to Do
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Recently, the Tufts Christian Fellowship, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s chapter at the Boston area university, was “de-recognized” by the student judiciary committee of the student council. TCF is appealing the ruling to the school’s Committee on Student Life, a standing committee of the faculty. The school’s statement is that TCF has not lost any of its rights and benefits, but that is only true because of the pending appeal. If the judicary committee’s ruling is upheld, TCF will not be able to reserve school rooms for its meetings, use the Tufts name in any way, or receive any funding from the student council. A similar ban was exercised earlier this year at Vanderbilt University, and a number of such cases have surfaced recently at American Universities, both public and private, mostly stemming seemingly from a 2010 ruling of the Supreme Court against the Christian Legal Society and its student chapter at Hastings School of Law in California. No one seems to think we have seen anything like the last of such rulings.

Almost all of the rulings seem to do with the exclusion from leadership of those who do not believe and practice the Christian faith in relation to sexual purity, especially homosexual behavior, but that is not the major issue here as Stanley Fish points out in his New York Times blog of July, 2010. The controlling issue is the impossibility of value neutrality, as Fish makes so clear. The “all-comers” policy, i.e. that there can be no distinguishing among students on the basis of their beliefs, formed a major cornerstone of the opinion that Justice Ginsburg wrote for the majority: “[It is] hard to imagine a more viewpoint-neutral policy than one requiring all student groups to accept all comers.”

This simple, brief article cuts immediately to the matter at hand. “The reasoning that the all-comers policy does not single out religious beliefs depends on a distinction between belief and conduct.” Christianity, he avers, simply doesn’t allow for a distinction between belief and practice; the unification of the two is part and parcel of its definition, at least that form of it practiced by evangelical Christians. One must both believe the Bible and do what it says. Anything else is less than Christianity.

Fish elaborates on this distinction, as well as other problems with the Court’s ruling, such as its appeal to the “limited forum” doctrine, but the purpose of this note is not to detail the blog entry‚Äôs excellent arguments. Suffice it to say that this article is one of the essential things to read on this issue, and anyone who works on a secular campus in the name of Christ needs to be reading a lot on the issue right now. Without full access to university facilities, and full recognition as a participant in the life of the university, things would be very different for any group seeking to maintain a place at the table of discussion in the Academy.

This article can be found in the archives of the New York Times online at NYTimes.com.

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