Friday, May 02, 2008

Georgia Tech Ruling Endangers Academic Freedom

A federal judge has ruled that Georgia Tech University cannot allow criticism of various religions in a training manual for the Safe Space program supporting gays and lesbians on campus. The ruling reflects a terrible threat to academic freedom. By ruling that students and employees involved with a program at a public college have no right to express views about religious groups, the judge misreads the First Amendment and imposes a tremendous burden on free speech. In essence, the judge has banned any employee at a public college from making an "unconstitutional preference of a particular religious view of homosexuality."

The Safe Space program, an optional Housing Department staff training program, imposed no burden on any religious group; it did not ban any religious organization or restrict their speech.

Certainly, a university has the right to have a program supporting gay and lesbian students and their needs. Certainly, the notion that all religious are equally accepting of homosexuality is absurd. Certainly, a program can inform its participants about what the views on homosexuality are among various religions. The fact that there is "substantial administrator involvement" in the program is irrelevant. Administrators have academic freedom, too.

The Safe Space Training Manual expresses certain opinions about the views of various religions on homosexuality. These views may be wrong. These views may be pointless. But they are opinions, and for a court to ban employees (and student coordinators) at a public university from expressing critical views of religion is fundamentally opposed to academic freedom and free speech.

The plaintiffs argue that the Safe Space Program "denigrates" the views of religions that oppose homosexuality. It does. So what? In a free society, people are free to denigrate religions.

Citing a flawed ruling involving 8th grade curriculum materials supporting gay rights, the judge ruled that the Safe Space Program fell under the same approach. But there's a problem here. The Safe Space Program isn't part of the curriculum, and these aren't preteens. They're adults.

Georgia Tech administrators have done plenty of stupid things and sought to restrict free speech. But that's no excuse for the conservative students to attempt to restrain free speech on campus criticizing religion.

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