Philpott on Christians after the Arab Spring

On the website of Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs today, Daniel Philpott has a good post concerning Middle East Christians. Here’s a sample:

The position of today’s Arab Christians is indeed precarious. Among the possible outcomes, Islamist regimes that afford Christians little freedom to practice their faith or participate in politics are entirely plausible. But this outcome is far from inevitable, no more inevitable than was the persistence of dictatorship. Only this past week, elections in Tunisia, the country that ignited the Arab Spring, gave a plurality of votes to an Islamic party, but one that is relatively liberal and that will rule in coalition with non-religious liberal parties. In Egypt, too, the possibilities are more complex than secularist safety and Salafist violence. When Christians are attacked it is not always at the hands of Muslims. The shooting of Christian demonstrators in Cairo this past October 9th was carried out by the army. When Muslims have attacked Christians, far more have defended them. Just after Muslim terrorists slaughtered 25 Coptic worshippers and injured some 100 others in Alexandria on New Year’s Day of this year, thousands of Muslims across the country gathered in candlelight vigils and formed human chains around Coptic churches during worship. Today, Egyptian Muslim office-seekers are divided among proponents of a strongly Islamic state and supporters of liberal rights, including religious freedom for Christians. The scenario of religious freedom, then, is plausible, too.

By the way, CLR Forum reviewed Philpott’s recent book, God’s Century (2011) (with Monica Duffy Toft and Timothy Samuel Shah), this summer. Have a look at our review, here. — MLM

“They Can Have a Statement of Faith, As Long As They Don’t Act on It.”

George Will has a good column this week on an ongoing controversy at Vanderbilt University. According to Will, Vanderbilt has placed the Christian Legal Society (CLS) on probation because CLS requires that its members adhere to specified religious beliefs, including the belief that homosexual conduct is sinful. This requirement violates the University’s nondiscrimination policy, which forbids a student organization from discriminating, among other reasons, on the basis of religious belief. Actually, that’s not quite right. Apparently, a student group may require in theory that members share the group’s beliefs; the group just cannot enforce the requirement. In the words of one Vanderbilt administrator, groups “can have a statement of faith and conduct of behavior, and this in itself is not discriminatory. But they would not be able to deny or remove any member based on their Code of Conduct. They can have a statement of faith as long as they don’t act on it.”

Judging from reports, Vanderbilt has adopted an all-comers policy of the sort the Court upheld two terms ago in CLS v. Martinez. Assuming Vanderbilt applies the policy in a neutral way, the policy seems constitutional under current law. But given Vanderbilt’s stated goal of promoting diversity on campus, the policy is very misguided. What’s the point of allowing students to form a religious organization – or an atheist organization, for that matter – but requiring the organization to open its membership to people who don’t share its beliefs? Does it make sense to require an environmentalist group to admit members who don’t endorse environmentalism, or an Orthodox Jewish group to admit members who refuse to keep kosher? The Vanderbilt policy, as Will points out, does not promote diversity on campus; it promotes conformity. Of course, Vanderbilt could argue that certain beliefs are unacceptable for its student groups to have, and that it is denying CLS recognition for that reason. That would be coherent; but it is not what Vanderbilt is arguing.  – MLM