A growth of evangelical student activism may be one unintended consequence of the hard-line that universities have taken against conservative religious groups on campus on the issue of gay rights, according to the conservative scholarly journal Academic Questions (December).
The simmering conflict between conservative Christian campus organizations and university administrations over gay rights broke into an open rift in recent years as these groups have suffered a loss of funding and recognition in several colleges, most recently SUNY Buffalo, California State University and Bowdoin College in Maine. In these and other cases, evangelical groups lost funding and recognition because they refused to open their membership and leadership to those dissenting on restrictions on homosexual activity.
So far, lawyers have been unsuccessful in challenging these decisions, but the policies have led to new campus-wide involvement by Christian student organizations and others concerned with religious freedom issues, writes David French, an attorney who has represented these groups. The first approach members of these groups took was to abandon “top-down litigation efforts in favor of grassroots student activism.”
Litigation was seen as removing students from the legal process and keeping them unaware of their case; there is little chance of successfully suing private universities such as Vanderbilt, which has been the most prominent university involved in this conflict. French writes that in contrast the confrontations of students with administrators at town hall meetings “galvanized student awareness and tended to have a positive effect on student engagement.
Groups reported larger and more enthusiastic membership soon after they joined the fight in earnest.” In the case of Vanderbilt, the campaign pressured the administration to allow these groups to have access to campus facilities. At the same time, in both “red” and “purple” states, campus Christian organizations “have worked with legislators, pro-family groups, and activist citizens to pass legislation protecting freedom of association on campuses in at least six states, including Virginia, Ohio, Arizona, and Tennessee,” French adds.
(Academic Questions, http://link.springer.com/journal/12129)