Liberty University recently decertified the College Democrat club on their campus. Mark Hine, Vice President for Student Affairs, explained the reasoning behind this decision:
The Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of LU and to Christian doctrine (supports abortion, federal funding of abortion, advocates repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, promotes the ‘LGBT’ agenda, Hate Crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc).
The College Democrats of America Alumni Association criticized the decision arguing that it amounts to an attack on “our freedom of expression.”
This critique poses an interesting question: has the right of freedom of expression really been denied and has Liberty improperly censored their students, thus violating the 1st Amendment to the Constitution?
Two important distinctions need to be made clear:
1. Liberty University is a private institution and not a government entity, so claims of censorship and a first amendment violation do not apply. The first amendment of the Constitution is designed to protect against government-imposed censorship of free expression. A private institution is, of course, allowed to control the content of any message that emanates from it.
2. Liberty University is a Christian entity with its own protections under the First Amendment, which establishes the free exercise protection. The intent of the free exercise clause was to ensure that religious groups would be free from state interference in how they practice their religious faith. This has historically included the guarantee that expression, behavior or ideas that were contrary to the religious faith of a religious institution, would not be protected. Examples of how this has historically been interpreted include protecting religious hospitals that oppose abortion because of their religious beliefs from being forced to perform abortions. Additionally, the free exercise clause has protected religious intuitions that refuse to employ or admit homosexuals, because of the Biblical prohibition of homosexual conduct.
So the decision by Liberty University to decline its recognition of the College Democrats is based on solid Constitutional protections.
Obviously there are significant implications for other Christian institutions, including Colorado Christian University. Circumstances might arise where CCU would have to consider whether it wanted its name (and implied official approval) associated with organizations, ideas, or beliefs that its leaders considered contrary to Christian doctrine and the Strategic Objectives established by the Board of Trustees, which stem from the tenets of the faith.
For any private Christian institution to deny certification of such groups would in no way be a denial of free speech. It would merely reflect that institution’s serious, consistent, principled application of its core tenets and worldview.
So in the present case, Liberty’s action is neither government censorship nor school censorship. Students are still able to meet, debate, and hold their personal beliefs. Voicing those beliefs in appropriate forums is not being denied. It is simply a Christian institution holding true to its beliefs and what it wants to put its name to.