Culture Friday: Is this the new normal?

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 12th of April, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It. Culture Friday.

A year’s tuition to Yale Law School is $60,000. One way students can pay down some of that is to work for public-interest firms. But last month, the school made it more difficult for some Christian, Muslim, and Jewish students to do that.

Here’s why: the law school decided to expand its nondiscrimination policy, so that it applies to summer public interest fellowships, postgraduate public interest fellowships, and loan forgiveness for public interest careers.

In short, the school is cutting off students and graduates who work at organizations that discriminate on the basis of “sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.”

Jasmine Stein is a student at Yale Law School. She wants the school to reconsider, and in doing that, decide whether Yale wants to be an institution of education, or an institution of indoctrination.

STEIN: It’s important that Yale reaffirms that it treats all of its students equally, that just because I’m a Christian on campus that I’m not disfavored.

Meantime, a Senate committee has opened an investigation into whether Yale is violating federal civil rights laws against discrimination based on religious faith.

Reportedly, this law-school policy change came at the behest of a student group known as Outlaws. The group protested an invitation to Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom to speak to Yale’s Federalist Society. Waggoner made the winning argument at the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case on religious liberty.

Alliance Defending Freedom fits the Yale definition of an organization for which one of its students cannot work without the risk of losing the financial support of the school.

It’s time to welcome John Stonestreet now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning.


EICHER: I think what we’re talking about here is the idea of religious blacklisting. Whether it’s Yale, or the organization known as SPLC, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which maintains a list of what it calls “hate groups”: a list, incidentally, that Alliance Defending Freedom is on. I bring up SPLC, because huge companies take their cues from it. They won’t do business with you if you’re on SPLC’s list.

But my question, John, suppose this policy stays in place at Yale. It’s going to spread to other schools. How do you advise Christian students to navigate those waters?

STONESTREET: Well, is it bad to say that given the state of higher education in America today that if this goes beyond kind of law schools into everyday colleges and universities that this may be the most effective thing that they’re doing right now to prepare students for real life? That’s saying a lot more about the state of higher education than it is about this terrible policy.

I spoke at a Christian college a couple years ago. One that does a great job of training students in nursing and engineering in particular, but really just a terrific liberal-arts college. Expensive. Probably $40,000 a year, so students are spending somewhere north of $150,000 to get an education, which prepares them for a career where this might be their future, or where they might have to opt out themselves, where the most significant thing they can do, or the most faithful thing to follow Jesus that they can do is to get fired.

And, you know, I’ve been saying this for a long time.

Look, there’s no question this is a terrible policy. Yale is one of those top-down schools where what happens there will start spreading to other campuses. Of course we’ve seen the sort of protesting that Kristen Waggoner received at other places, but this sort of structural discrimination against people of faith—and it is people of faith.

I wonder what will happen with Muslim students going with Muslim organizations that hold the same views, if Yale would dare kind of disenfranchise that group.

My guess is it’ll be pretty targeted at Christians and it will spread.

The question is is whether this is the new reality, the new normal that we can expect kind of across the board given the effectiveness of groups like the SPLC, given a political swing in a couple years—the potential of a political swing in a couple years—that brings back things like using Title IX, Title VII, Title X pressures to disenfranchise and discriminate against Christians, while privileging gay and lesbian students and student organizations and those organizations that quickly get hurt feelings.

It’s hard for me not to see that this isn’t the new normal.

How could Christians navigate these waters? It’s simple. You’ve got to be really clear on what you believe and when this sort of pressure comes, you’ve got to do the right thing.

And, again, this sounds kind of simple. But we’re kind of entering a new time for American Christians where it’s been a long time that to be a Christian and to have Christian beliefs might mean that you get ridiculed or disparaged. It’s another thing when you kind of see real money at the table or being used against you and maybe even the loss of a career, the loss of a pension, or something like that.

Of course, our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are losing even more, but this is another level of pressure and Christian students need to know where they stand. And, by the way, this isn’t just advice for Christian students. This is a really important thing for Christian institutions that do formation—like churches, certainly homes, Christian schools, youth groups. The question is is if this is what they’re going to face when they get out of our care, what sort of preparation needs to happen when they’re under our care?

That’s going to be a really important question that’s going to reveal a lot about our own institutions.

EICHER: I want to talk about another kind of blacklisting, John. The attempted blacklisting of the film “Unplanned.” It was clearly aimed at Planned Parenthood: the story of Abby Johnson, the former abortion clinic director, who renounced abortion, then went on to expose Planned Parenthood.

The film “Unplanned” faced all kinds of obstacles coming to market. The New York Times, to its credit, listed the significant hurdles: from music licensing, to the film’s Twitter account getting suspended the day of the film’s release, to the lead actress’ not getting mainstream media publicity interviews.

And I’ll put that together with another under-the-radar story about a young artist by the name of Nathan W. Pyle. He’s the creator of the Strange Planet cartoon.

Two years ago, he made a positive comment on Twitter about the March for Life. That discovery prompted an online hit piece last week with the headline, “The Guy Who Makes Those Cute Alien Comics Has Really Bad Opinions On Abortion.” The lead sentence, “Cartoonist Nathan Pyle, whose Strange Planet alien drawings you’ve definitely seen everywhere, was discovered to be anti-abortion today, which serves as a valuable reminder that you should know about the person whose content you’re sharing.”

The reporter did some digging and found out that Pyle’s Twitter bio says, “I follow Jesus.”

All the unwanted attention put Pyle in a position of having to issue a statement that he doesn’t want to be associated with the Republican Party, that he and his wife vote Democrat, but they do have, quoting here, “private beliefs as they pertain to our Christian faith.”

Clearly, “Unplanned” weathered the storm, now that film revenues have risen above costs, and that’s not nothing. But I shudder to think what might happen to this young artist who’s not a pro-life activist or anything like that, but just publicly expressed an opinion once. What do you think?

STONESTREET: It reminds me of when Chuck Colson warned us all about this shift from religious freedom to freedom of worship and he just wanted to be really careful about the language being used because freedom of worship is the freedom to believe what you want in the privacy of your own brain, your own home, and so on, but you can’t really take it out into the public square.

And that’s a very different thing than what America has long enjoyed, which is religious freedom, which is the ability to take out your deeply held convictions into the public square.

This is an example about how quickly religious freedom can erode and it’s not even coming from legal oppression or legislative decisions or even institutional decisions that we talked about in the last question. I mean, this is kind of the mob approach and we’ve seen it over and over and over; Someone made a donation to Prop 8. They’re not allowed to be a CEO. Someone is a Catholic and holds Catholic views. They’re not allowed to be a judge.

And, look, I’ll have to say this: I don’t know a single example—not a single example—of the other way around, where someone stated kind of a, well, I believe in a woman’s right to choose and then the mob surrounds them and basically says they shouldn’t be allowed to participate in public life. Maybe I’m missing something, but this is a one-directional thing.

But it goes back to the question is this the new normal? And there’s a branding problem with religious freedom. So, for us, it seems so utterly obvious but more and more in the culture, there hasn’t been a strong brand of religious freedom where it’s actually seen as a good thing. And I think that’s one of the questions that’s really up in the air. Is religion a good thing for the world?

Now, historically, the answer’s overwhelmingly, well, yes! In fact, without religion there’s a whole lot of things that we take for granted now, including concepts like human dignity, that we would never have.

But we’re in a cultural moment now with a really short historical memory and so we want the good things while untethering it from the source. And that’s the real risk I think we face and we see it now legally. We see it legislatively. We see it culturally. And now we see it personally it does make me think that this is the new normal. And, again, are most churches discipling Christians to face this kind of pressure? That’s one of the questions we’re going to have to confront.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thanks so much.

STONESTREET: Thank you, Nick.

(Photo/Associated Press) Yale University

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