Sunday, May 4, 2008

Oh Noes! Judge Sai STFU to teh Gheys!

People are upset over at INSIDE HIGHER ED. A federal court ruled that a Georgia Institute of Technology GLBT student support group, the Safe Spot, was handing out unconstitutional literature. The materials in question described certain religious groups as more gay friendly than others and expressed a bit of disdain for fundamentalism.

Federal District Judge J. Owen Forrester concluded that these materials violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Some bloggers are troubled by the ruling. Inside Higher Ed views the matter as "Gay Rights vs. Religious Rights." PZ Myers wonders whether church-state separation causes more harm than good:
"...because we have to mindlessly avoid any perception of preference for one over another at any official level, the more enlightened faiths must be lumped with the dumbest, vilest, crudest kinds of religions, and you are not allowed to distinguish between them. I've said it before: church-state separation is a principle that protects and privileges religious belief in the United States, and furthermore as we can see here, it isolates pathological, dangerous beliefs from valid criticism."
In my opinion, the judge did the right thing. Two factors created the establishment clause challenge:

1. The dean had editorial power over the literature in question, creating state entanglement with its content.

2. The literature used a theological justification for the notion that homosexuality is not immoral.

It's not okay for the government to do stuff like that. We don't need the state telling us how to correctly interpret the Bible or when some verse has been "taken out of context." Read the judge's ruling and you'll appreciate how far the Safe Spot literature strayed over into Bible opinion land. Here's a taste:
Is homosexuality immoral?

Many religious traditions have taught, and some continue to teach, that homosexuality is immoral. These condemnations are based primarily on a few isolated passages from the Bible. Historically, Biblical passages taken out of context have been used to justify such things as slavery, the inferior status of women, and the persecution of religious minorities. In recent years, many theologians and clergy have begun to look at sexual relationships in terms of the love, mutual support, commitment, and the responsibility of the partners rather than the sex of the individuals involved. Currently, there are many gay and lesbian religious groups and religious congregations that are open, accepting, and supportive of the gay community.
The Safe Spot Training Manual, created to guide staff in their efforts to support gay and lesbian students, has a section entitled, "What does the Bible Say about Homosexuality?" Judge Forrester quotes some of the questions and answers listed:
Q. Some TV Evangelists act as if homosexuality among men were the worst sin. What Biblical texts do they base this on? Is their approach legitimate?

A. The supposedly sweeping Biblical condemnation of homosexuality rests almost exclusively on only eight (brief) passages in the Bible...

Q. When homophobic people start using the Bible to attack me, how can I verbally defend myself? Are there any passages in the Bible that seem to support gay relationships, or at least indicate that perhaps marrying and having children is not the ultimate Christian duty?

A. There seems to be little point in arguing with people who still believe the earth was created in 4,004 B.C.; this doesn’t mean that you have to accept their interpretation of the Bible. Remember: these people are not homophobic because of the Bible; they hurl these passages at gays and lesbians because they were homophobic to begin with. (You might chide them for wearing mixed fabric or ask them if Jim Bakker must be 'put to death' – if you really enjoy arguing). You might familiarize yourself with the many Biblical passages (Too numerous to mention here) that stress love, compassion, forgiveness of sins, not judging others, etc. Remember: Jesus himself never married nor had children! Other parts of the Bible simply can’t be forced into the 'family values' obsession of the Fundamentalists.
I'm surprised the matter went to court. The dean should have recognized the problems in the handouts and requested that they be revised. A simple list of gay friendly churches in the area would have sufficed. No theology necessary.

So please everybody, be happy!

State schools can continue to create free speech forums for both faculty and students. Administrators simply need to avoid:

1. Asserting editorial influence or control over the speech expressed in those forums;

2. Offering theological opinions.

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