Is religious resource allocation religious sponsorship?
I have a few friends who provide regular excellent reminders that religiosity does not preclude intelligence, rationality, and scientific proficiency. When i posted this follow-up to Mehta’s original post about Jerry Buell, my friend — one of these few — raised a concern over Buell being “faculty sponsor” (which i took to mean “advisor”) for a religious group within the high school. Her position is that public schools (including colleges) should offer no recognition for explicitly religious or irreligious organizations at all.
This position makes a lot of sense to me, at first. It absolves the school of a great deal of liability with respect to religious favoritism, and with a stronger form of this principle in place an administration could both allow and require teachers full range to engage their students in important disciplines that might clash with their (the teachers’ or the students’) religious beliefs.
I would have some concern over whether marginalized groups like Muslims, atheists, and pagans would have the resources available to them to build a community outside their own social circles without, say, the privilege to reserve rooms on campus (that might well be denied them elsewhere). This brings us back to Christian privilege, specifically the advantage of existing infrastructure ready to accommodate you and reinforce your beliefs as a Christian. Should the state be responsible for mitigating this advantage by providing resources to any marginalized group? In some form, this should follow from the recognition of religion as a protected class under nondiscrimination law or policy (in the case of a school). That in itself certainly doesn’t mean that i support such resource allocation; white supremacy groups have no business being permitted because they explicitly target (for disrespect if not for violence) individuals who require a supportive educational environment, and the same argument might reasonably preclude any religious group that posits divine discrimination, including almost every sect of every major world religion.
Another concern arises over what is classifiable as a religion. Could students found a Buddhist club? a humanist club? an objectivist/Libertarian club? Instead only clubs that entail some educational value might be permitted, but its own demarcation problem escorts this alternative. Students would gain much from a skeptics club, for instance, but to arbitrarily put certain religious beliefs (an intervening god, for instance, in the form of the efficacy of prayer) would amount to religious interference in school affairs.
But this is an old game.
It’s tempting to think that the wall of separation must inevitably topple into religious territory, perhaps with mandatory instruction of religious history, or else gradually fade into irrelevance. But neither the fate of the wall nor the difficulty of the demarcation absolves us from setting a responsible precedent now. As such, i’m unconvinced that the threat posed to the foundations by the limited resources available to student organizations outweighs the balance in power achieved by correcting for Christian dominance — and more generally relinquishment of any restrictions on the dialoge accessible to students as primed to learn from it as ever in their lives they will have been.