Paul L. Caron

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Plight Of A Christian Professor At An Elite Law School

CLS 2Rod Dreher, The Post-Indiana Future for Christians:

I spent a long time on the phone last night with a law professor at one of the country’s elite law schools. This professor is a practicing Christian, deeply closeted in the workplace; he is convinced that if his colleagues in academia knew of his faith, they would make it very hard for him. ... I will call him Prof. Kingsfield, after the law professor in The Paper Chase. 

What prompted his reaching out to me? “I’m very worried,” he said, of events of the last week. “The constituency for religious liberty just isn’t there anymore.” Like me, what unnerved Prof. Kingsfield is not so much the details of the Indiana law, but the way the overculture treated the law. “When a perfectly decent, pro-gay marriage religious liberty scholar like Doug Laycock, who is one of the best in the country — when what he says is distorted, you know how crazy it is.” ...

When I asked Kingsfield what most people outside elite legal and academic circles don’t understand about the way elites think, he said “there’s this radical incomprehension of religion." ...  To elites in his circles, Kingsfield continued, “at best religion is something consenting adult should do behind closed doors. They don’t really understand that there’s a link between Sister Helen Prejean’s faith and the work she does on the death penalty. There’s a lot of looking down on flyover country, one middle America.

“The sad thing,” he said, “is that the old ways of aspiring to truth, seeing all knowledge as part of learning about the nature of reality, they don’t hold. It’s all about power. They’ve got cultural power, and think they should use it for good, but their idea of good is not anchored in anything. They’ve got a lot of power in courts and in politics and in education. Their job is to challenge people to think critically, but thinking critically means thinking like them. They really do think that they know so much more than anybody did before, and there is no point in listening to anybody else, because they have all the answers, and believe that they are good.”

On the conservative side, said Kingsfield, Republican politicians are abysmal at making a public case for why religious liberty is fundamental to American life. “The fact that Mike Pence can’t articulate it, and Asa Hutchinson doesn’t care and can’t articulate it, is shocking,” Kingsfield said. “Huckabee gets it and Santorum gets it, but they’re marginal figures. Why can’t Republicans articulate this? We don’t have anybody who gets it and who can unite us. Barring that, the craven business community will drag the Republican Party along wherever the culture is leading, and lawyers, academics, and media will cheer because they can’t imagine that they might be wrong about any of it.” ...

A college professor who is already tenured is probably safe. Those who aren’t tenured, are in danger. Those who are believed to be religious, or at least religious in ways the legal overculture believes constitutes bigotry, will likely never be hired. For example, the professor said, he was privy to the debate within a faculty hiring meeting in which the candidacy of a liberal Christian was discussed. Though the candidate appeared in every sense to be quite liberal in her views, the fact that she was an open Christian prompted discussion as to whether or not the university would be hiring a “fundamentalist.” “I think in terms of hiring people [within the academy], that’s quite acceptable in people’s minds,” said Kingsfield. (And, I would add, not just within the academy.)

Kingsfield says that religious schools will have a substantial degree of protection in the law, at least for a while, to the extent that the school can be described as a part of a particular church, with clear doctrines that it expects its members to live by and uphold. “There’s going to be some question as to whether this applies to parachurch charities, schools, shelters, things like that,” he says. “If you’re a church you’re pretty much protected in who you hire, pay, and so forth. If you are a school and are careful only to hire people of your denomination, you’re probably okay, though there are questions about the person who says ‘I’m a good Catholic, though I’m gay.’

“It could be that if bishop certifies that you are a Catholic in good standing, you’re okay,” he continued. “Catholics have a clear line of what constitutes the visible church, and what it means to be Catholic. So do the Orthodox. But if you are an Evangelical church that has a more general statement of faith, and depends on a shared assumption that its non-married members will live a chaste life, I’m not so sure that’s going to hold.” ...

Kingsfield said religious colleges and universities are going to have to think hard about their identities. “Colleges that don’t receive federal funding – Hillsdale and Grove City are two I can think of – are going to be in better position, because federal regulations force a lot of crazy stuff on you,” he said. “I think it would be really wise for small religious institutions to think hard if they can cut the cord of federal funding and can find wealthy donors to step in.”

What about the big issue that is on the minds of many Christians who pay attention to this fight: the tax-exempt status of churches and religious organizations? Will they be Bob Jones’d over gay rights?

Kingsfield said that this is too deeply embedded in American thought and law to be at serious risk right now, but gay rights proponents will probably push to tie the tax exemption on charities with how closely integrated they are within churches. The closer schools and charities are tied to churches, especially in their hiring, the greater protection they will enjoy.

The accreditation issue is going to be a much stickier wicket. Accreditation is tied to things like the acceptance of financial aid, and the ability to get into graduate schools.

“There was a professor at Penn last year who wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education calling for the end of accrediting religious colleges and universities,” Kingsfield said. “It was a Richard Dawkins kind of thing, just crazy. The fact that someone taking a position this hostile felt very comfortable putting this in the Chronicle tells me that there’s a non-trivial number of professors willing to believe this.” Gordon College has faced pressure from a regional accrediting authority over its adherence to traditional Christian sexual morals re: gay rights.

“Accreditation is critical to being admitted to law schools and medical schools,” Kingsfield said. “College accreditation will matter for some purposes of sports, federal aid, and for the ability to be admitted by top graduate schools. Ghettoization for Christians could be the result.”

“In California right now, judges can’t belong to the Boy Scouts now. Who knows if in the future, lawyers won’t be able to belong to churches that are considered hate groups?” he said. “It’s certainly true that a lot of law firms will not now hire people who worked on cases defending those on the traditional marriage side. It’s going to close some professional doors. I certainly wouldn’t write about this stuff in my work, not if I wanted to have a chance at tenure. There’s a question among Christian law professors right now: do you write about these issues and risk tenure? This really does distort your scholarship. Christianity could make a distinct contribution to legal discussions, but it’s simply too risky to say what you really think.”

The emerging climate on campus of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and the construal of discourse as a form of violence is driving Christian professors further into the closet, the professor said.

“If I said something that was construed as attacking a gay student, I could have my life made miserable with a year or two of litigation — and if I didn’t have tenure, there could be a chance that my career would be ruined,” he said. “Even if you have tenure, a few people who make allegations of someone being hateful can make a tenured professor’s life miserable.”

“What happened to Brendan Eich” — the tech giant who was driven out of Mozilla for having made a small donation years earlier to the Prop 8 campaign — “is going to start happening to a lot of people, and Christians had better be ready for it. The question I keep thinking about is, why would we want to do that to people? But that’s where we are now.” ...

“We have to fall back to defensive lines and figure out where those lines are. It’s not going to be persecution like the older Romans, or even communist Russia,” he added. “But what’s coming is going cause a lot of people to fall away from the faith, and we are going to have to be careful about how we define and clarify what Christianity is.” ...

“‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ forced them to segment off a part of their lives in a way that was wrong. What they don’t realize today is that the very same criticism they had about ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ can be applied to what is happening now to Christians: you can do what you like in private, but don’t bring who you are into the public square, or you can be punished for it.” ...

Kingsfield teaches at one of the top universities in the country, a gateway to elite advancement, but says he’s not sure he would want his kids attending there. It depends on God’s calling. He remains there because for now, he sees that he has a mission to mentor undergraduates who need a professor like him to help them deal with the things coming at them. The fact that he has his kids in a good school and a good parish makes this possible. But he recognizes that by the time his children become college age, the landscape may have shifted such that the elite universities are too hostile.

“I could still imagine having a kid who was really strong in his faith, and believing that God was calling him to going to a prestige college. I’m not ready to say ‘never’ for that, but I do think there are a lot of kids that we need to steer away from such hostile places, and into smaller, reliably Christian schools where they can be built up in their faith, and not have to deal with such hostility before they’re strong enough to combat it.”

It’s hard to say what kind of landscape Christians will be looking at twenty, thirty years from now. Kingsfield says he has gay colleagues in the university, people who are in their sixties and seventies now, who came of age in a time where a strong sense of individual liberty protected them. They still retain a devotion to liberty, seeing how much it matters to despised minorities.

“That generation is superseded by Social Justice Warriors in their thirties who don’t believe that they should respect anybody who doesn’t respect them,” Kingsfield said. “Those people are going to be in power before long, and we may not be protected.”

UPDATE: From a reader (who signed his name and gave his institutional affiliation, but I’m keeping this anonymous). He teaches at a major public law school:

Loved the article. I come from a similar background as Kingsfield, although a different legal focus … . At my school, I am the only evangelical Christian within the tenure system, or at least the only open one. While I don’t think my institution is quite as bad as what Kingsfield describes, Kingsfield’s observations are consistent with mine and/or with observations by Christian colleagues at other schools. The attitude toward truth that was displayed by the left on the Indiana RFRA is dominant in legal academia. We live in a culture that is now largely post-rational, post-modern, and post-law. Power and emotions drive issues in a way that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.


Stephen Bainbridge (UCLA), On Closeted Christian Law Professors: Thoughts on Dreher's Kingsfield:

I agree with Kingsfield that secular elites at high end universities and colleges are an annoyingly self-satisfied ... Which is precisely why Kingsfield needs to come out of the closet. Sadly, however, he is going deeper into the closet:

The emerging climate on campus of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and the construal of discourse as a form of violence is driving Christian professors further into the closet, the professor said.

“If I said something that was construed as attacking a gay student, I could have my life made miserable with a year or two of litigation — and if I didn’t have tenure, there could be a chance that my career would be ruined,” he said. “Even if you have tenure, a few people who make allegations of someone being hateful can make a tenured professor’s life miserable.”

He's right. I've been there (albeit for saying something obnoxious unrelated to my faith). But so what? ...

The Christians beheaded by ISIS faced a fate far worse than a smear campaign by academic lefties and they refused to deny Christ.

Put simply, being a Christian is supposed to be hard. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

It is true that Christ tells us that we are sheep among wolves and so must be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. But going into a religious closet is not shrewd.

"Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house."

I am a sinner who is far from perfect. But I refuse to be a closeted sinner. So I am going to continue teaching and writing about Catholic Social Thought. And I'm going to go on having a picture of St Thomas More in my office. And I'm going to go on having many books on religion in my office. And I'm going to go on wearing my ashes to class on Ash Wednesday. And I'm going to go on pushing back when people infringe on freedom of speech and religion, especially on campuses.

And if my colleagues don't like that, all I can say is "Come and Have a Go If You Think You're Hard Enough." After all, if I may be forgiven quoting the great reformer, "Here I stand; I can do no other."

Brian Leiter (Chicago), I Call "Bullshit" on This One...:

I'm afraid it just doesn't ring true to what I've seen at the institutions I've taught.  Yes, levels of religiosity among law professors are not high (though they are higher than among philosophy professors); but norms of collegiality and respect for differences have generally created environments in which no one would reasonably feel a need to go into the closet as described.

Legal Education | Permalink


O'Sullivan's First Law: "All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing."

We now see a similar principle: All organizations that are not explicitly religious will over time become hostile to religion.

Posted by: AMT buff | Apr 26, 2015 6:42:31 AM

I've got to say that if you are hiding your faith in God, you aren't much of a worshiper. When you are persecuted for your faith, God notices. When you hide it, you are denying it and God notices that, too.

Posted by: Robin | Apr 26, 2015 8:22:11 AM

"When you hide it, you are denying it and God notices that, too."

So God demands that you rush to martyrdom? That's ridiculous. Maybe your pride demands such a stance, but to impart such on the part of the Almighty is wrong.

Posted by: Df82 | Apr 26, 2015 3:14:09 PM

Robin, there is a difference between denying your faith and keeping your mouth shut, which was good enough for Thomas More and for Jesus.

Posted by: Marg | Apr 26, 2015 3:34:27 PM

The extremity of these positions have been with us for a while. What’s frightening is the rapidity and violence with which they have spread in recent years, encouraged by an administration that uses emotional appeals to the mob to advance policies.

Anecdotally, one of my doctoral committee members, an avowed Marxist, said to my face “I hate f***ing Christians.” I did and said nothing because I needed the degree. The problem with Robin’s glib advice is two-fold: 1) it is easy to give if you have nothing to lose; and 2) Christians, as a body, have forgotten how to respond to persecution. We would have to adopt the methods of the Left, albeit non-violently. My advice to students going to graduate school is to hide their faith: it is Caesar’s tax that we must pay in order to contribute to Christian culture in a meaningful way.

Posted by: osocrates | Apr 26, 2015 3:50:15 PM

It's been a while, but aren't there a couple of places in the Bible that say people should keep their faith private, like in a closet, but at the same time live the life that faith informs?

Posted by: Perry | Apr 26, 2015 4:41:03 PM

Keep in mind some significant factors that are likely to propel this issue outside the religion versus secular arena.

1. In the mid-1990s, I had an email exchange with one of the early ‘silence all critics’ gay activists that are becoming far more visible twenty years later. I forget the topic being discussed in an online forum, but I decided to play the devil’s advocate. Discussions about male homosexuals, I suggested require that pedophilia and the risks to young boys be taken into account. To illustrate my point I pointed to Alfred Kinsey’s sex research, which found that about 25% of male homosexuals were attracted to boys.

I was quite aware that Kinsey’s data was almost certainly bogus, since many of his sources were data-obsessed child molesters or those in prison for sexual crimes against children. I actually wanted this group to admit that the once-revered Kinsey’s research was bogus.

No such luck. The guy I exchanged email with wanted it to be illegal to publish Kinsey’s research or even discuss it. Odd, I thought to myself, here’s a sexual radical wanting the pioneering sexual radical to be censored.

That is why it’s highly unlikely that these activists will be satisfied with beating up on Christian wedding photographers and the like or revoking the non-profit status of churches. In their zeal, they’ll turn on secular people who have been their allies, people who still have some integrity.

2. There’s been a zeal within the gay movement to prove that homosexuality is determined either by genes or environment. If that’s demonstrated to be true, then homosexuals will find themselves on a collision course with the entire mindset of abortion legalization.

If it’s determined by genes, then there’ll be prenatal tests. Those tests prevent the births of some 80% of children with Downs Syndrome. There’s no reason to suspect the percentage will be much different with ‘the gay gene.’ The rates are likely to be particularly high among affluent liberals who want their one or two children to present them with grandchildren.

If it’s due to a hormonal imbalance, then tests administered during pregnancy will correct the condition.

In either case, the result is the same—far fewer homosexuals being born due the the very dogmas that the gay movement accepts. Stated succinctly, if “it” isn’t a human and a person before birth, then “it” can’t be a human, gay person either.

3. Successes like the Boy Scouts are likely to lead to disasters than even a friendly press can’t conceal. One prominent Catholic I read said that some 95% of the child molestations by Catholic priests involved boys. It’s not hard to imagine a gay friendly Boy Scouts having so many molested and traumatized boys that the scandal defies even the ability of the media to suppress it.

Less aggressive goals, goals that don’t involve such heavy risks, would be far more sensible. But this isn’t a movement based on good sense and certainly not toleration.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Apr 26, 2015 5:00:33 PM

The Apostle Paul told us that we should rejoice in persecution for His sake. If you are being persecuted for being a Christian, you should be happy. I certainly never said you need to be evangelical, but you shouldn't hide your faith. That makes it look like you are ashamed of it. The whole idea of making your faith known is to silence those against God by not giving them anything to criticize. Respectfully, Robin

Posted by: Robin | Apr 26, 2015 5:04:18 PM

As a lawyer and a Christian, I have always openly opposed injustice and discrimination regardless of the consequences. Too often values and morals are overlooked to perserve lifestyles.

Posted by: Lou | Apr 26, 2015 5:17:36 PM

You mean like hiding your light under a bushel?

Posted by: ChemProf | Apr 26, 2015 5:29:14 PM

It's been a while, but aren't there a couple of places in the Bible that say people should keep their faith private, like in a closet, but at the same time live the life that faith informs?

You may be confusing St. Francis of Assisi for the Bible.

He was famous for saying "Preach the Gospel...use words if necessary." Which I guess involves faith being self-evident by lifestyle, even if the believer doesn't preach.

Jesus said things like "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hid. Neither does anyone light a lamp, and put it under a basket. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven."

In both, it is rather hard to support keeping the faith private and closeted.

Posted by: SJ | Apr 26, 2015 5:39:40 PM

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
Mark 16:15

Posted by: lily | Apr 26, 2015 5:52:14 PM

Perry - Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Psalm 105:1

Posted by: lily | Apr 26, 2015 5:52:48 PM

Perry - You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
Matthew 5:14

Posted by: lily | Apr 26, 2015 5:54:15 PM

Perry - the bible says to pray in private, and to give in private, and not to be self-aggrandizing in your faith. But to be a Christian in private? No!

Posted by: lily | Apr 26, 2015 5:55:30 PM

At a certain moment, christians will internalize that the US is a mission country. This will very much change how christians act. The secularists will not likely enjoy it.

Posted by: TMLutas | Apr 26, 2015 7:33:28 PM

The only reasons Kingsfield can cite, for his opposition to same-sex marriage, are religious ones. If he would agree that marriage, under state and federal laws, is a contract between two people that comes with a long list of burdens and benefits conferred by statute, and that marriage need not necessarily involve a church or other religious organization, his opposition would fade away.

My earliest serious conversation on the topic was years ago, when the Massachusetts court first o.k.’d it here. I live just outside Boston, and our state rep who was trying to generate support for an amendment to the Mass. constitution. His main argument to me was that marriage was a holy institution. I agreed with him, that a marriage in a church might be so, but some folks got married in a purely civil ceremony. He was unwilling to bend on the topic, and he lost his bid for reelection.

Posted by: eli bortman | Apr 27, 2015 4:02:36 AM

I think this is the issue of the next decade.

Posted by: mike livingston | Apr 27, 2015 4:21:33 AM

I am a tenure track faculty member at a top public business school, and am a practicing and very open Christian, as are many of my colleagues, as are many colleagues at other very good public and private business schools. I wonder what it is about law schools that has made things so difficult for practicing Christians, as opposed to business schools...

Posted by: jdawg | Apr 27, 2015 5:52:11 AM

Your right to religious liberty ends when you discriminate against me. That is what people understand and don't like.

Posted by: Uxorius | Apr 27, 2015 6:19:23 AM

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Posted by: Pat | Apr 27, 2015 6:19:38 AM

I am a practicing professor and Catholic, and there is no hide it. Indeed it is fun to joke about my upbringing and education. If one chooses not to be themselves, then they're trying to be someone else. The disagreements that I'd have with others and that they'd have with me over our separate beliefs actually define our agreement that everyone should be and should believe as they choose. "There is no grace, there is no guilt, this is thy law, do what thou wilt."

Posted by: Spatlaw | Apr 27, 2015 6:25:41 AM

The problem isn't that conservative Republicans do a bad job explaining why religious liberty is so important, but that they explicitly seek to enshrine their own interpretations of their personal religious doctrine into secular public law. Is it any wonder that those of us who support the separation of church and state, *and* the free exercise of religion, so strongly object to those efforts?

Posted by: Jonathan Ezor | Apr 27, 2015 6:29:56 AM

"...marriage, under state and federal laws, is a contract between two people that comes with a long list of burdens and benefits conferred by statute,"

Government is involved with marriage because there was an understanding that stable families benefited all society. If people (gay and straight) are just going to move in and out of relationships fairly casually, in a way that does not really benefit society, then government should move out of the marriage business. It should be a private business between private parties, supported by private contracts.

Posted by: lily | Apr 27, 2015 6:41:29 AM

Should we also support Moslem practices in public? For many of them, the site of a girl's hair is as offensive as gay people are to activist Christians. Santeria people want to sacrifice animals. Would you be ok with a few sacrificial sites around your campus? Is it intolerance that you aren't?

My God says that your God is a blasphemous lie. When you proclaim your belief in that blasphemous lie, I am offended and am commanded to destroy you non-believers.

Seems it might be easier to live together if we did keep it in private.

Posted by: TQ White II | Apr 27, 2015 8:19:12 AM

Are there any Christian grad students here? I'm an evangelical Christian preparing for physics graduate school, and advice would be appreciated. In my undergrad experience I didn't make a big deal about my faith in classes but openly shared to the undergraduates my (in that department) unique views.

Posted by: Aaron | Apr 27, 2015 8:35:40 AM

Last year I lost a job opportunity as a regional in-house counsel for a tech company headquartered in Silicon Valley. There is no question in my mind why.

Things went swimmingly in my interviews. Not only did I have experience in the kinds of legal work they wanted me to do, I had even worked on a couple of their projects for a predecessor owner before they had acquired them.

At the end of the interviews they said I seemed like a great candidate, but they needed to have their security consultants do a background check on me.

And then nothing. All you have to do is google my name and you will see I am an elder at a church that has supported traditional marriage. Do I know this is the reason? No. But I highly suspect it is; especially in light of such situations as Brendan Eich.

It doesn't bother me. If that is their attitude towards Christians probably that is not the environment for me to be in.

Posted by: Maunalani | Apr 27, 2015 12:55:25 PM

Here in the northwest we are having a small town music festival/competition for high school students. The event is sponsored by the city and local public schools. I know a wonderful young girl who is very sociable, and pleasant and balanced, she is well read and well educated. Her genius is in playing the piano. She will be a senior in high school this year and being considered for scholarships at major conservatories. Both she and her sister have been home schooled by a very intelligent, thoughtful and caring Christian mother and father. She has been denied entry into the music competition because she is homeschooled. Think about that folks.

Posted by: faculty wife | Apr 27, 2015 1:35:39 PM

It's every Christian's duty to show his faith in God rather than denying Him. The Bible's full of that. Peter's denying he knew Jesus three times before the cock crowed. Silence is equivalent to denial today, since everyone in law prof crowds will assume you're non-religious. Matthew 10:38: "But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven." Mark 8:37-38: " For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." 2 Timothy 1:7-8 "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." Acts 4:18-20 "And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

The easiest thing to do, which is about all I do myself, is just to not conceal one's Christianity. If you're meeting someone and you'd ordinarily tell him what you were just doing, don't be silent if you've just come from a prayer meeting or a bible study. If someone asks what you're doing this weekend and you're going on a church retreat, tell them. That's the door to quiet evangelism, where the other person knows he can ask you about God, and where you can impress (we hope--- hard to bear, though, for we sinners) by example.

If you're braver, you can take inspiration from John Knox, the father of Presbyterianism, who said,

"But because I remember that account of the talents received must be made to him ­-- who neither respects the multitude, neither yet approves the wisdom, policy, peace, nor antiquity, concluding or determining anything against his eternal will, revealed to us in his most blessed word ­--I am compelled to cover my eyes, and shut up my ears, that I neither see the multitude that shall withstand me in this matter, neither that I shall hear the opprobrium, nor consider the dangers which I may incur for uttering the same.

I shall be called foolish, curious, despiteful, and a sower of sedition; and one day, perchance (although now am nameless) I may be attainted of treason.

But seeing that it is impossible, but that either I shall offend God, daily calling to my conscience that I ought to manifest the known verity; or else that I shall displease the world for doing the same; I have determined to obey God, notwithstanding that the world shall rage thereat."

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Apr 29, 2015 3:43:41 AM