As an evangelical Christian in America, I am generally loathe to make the claim that Christians are persecuted in America. I know enough about the real persecution and threats to lives of Christians in places like China or the Middle East to know that we do a great disservice to those brave souls when we claim persecution here in America.
That being said, there are occasionally real threats to religious liberty in America and they should concern everyone, not just Christians. Agnostics/atheists should very much be concerned about religious liberty at it effects their freedom FROM religion.
This week a Christian fraternity at the University of Georgia has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against UGA and the Board of Regents. It seems that the University of Georgia has decided to no longer recognize Beta Upsilon Chi because of a fraternity requirement that all members and officers be Christians. The university seems to believe that this requirement is in violation of its non-discrimination policies.
I am quite familiar with situations like this as I was involved in a similar case in high school. My brother, our own commenter Scott McD, and myself were all involved in a group in high school called Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Henderson High in Atlanta, GA. Unlike other extracurricular groups including non-academic ones, we were not allowed to use school property for our meetings. In fact, we were all disciplined for simply passing notes in the hall about off-campus meetings.
Our case eventually garnered the interest of Christian uber-attorney Jay Sekulow. Jay helped us tremendously and gave us a ton of media exposure. At the same time, Jay was working on a case that ended up at the Supreme Court called Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens. The facts of the case were as follows (from Oyez: U.S. Supreme Court Media):
The school administration at Westside High School denied permission to a group of students to form a Christian club with the same privileges and meeting terms as other Westside after-school student clubs. In addition to citing the Establishment Clause, Westside refused the club’s formation because it lacked a faculty sponsor. When the school board upheld the administration’s denial, Mergens and several other students sued. The students alleged that Westside’s refusal violated the Equal Access Act, which requiremes that schools in receipt of federal funds provide “equal access” to student groups seeking to express “religious, political, philosophical, or other content” messages. On appeal from an adverse District Court ruling, the Court of Appeals found in favor of the students. The Supreme Court granted Westside certiorari.
The Supreme Court eventually found in favor of the students as follows:
In distinguishing between “curriculum” and “noncurriculum student groups,” the Court held that since Westside permitted other noncurricular clubs, it was prohibited under the Equal Access Act from denying equal access to any after-school club based on the content of its speech. The proposed Christian club would be a noncurriculum group since no other course required students to become its members, its subject matter would not actually be taught in classes, it did not concern the school’s cumulative body of courses, and its members would not receive academic credit for their participation. The Court added that the Equal Access Act was constitutional because it served an overriding secular purpose by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of philosophical, political, or other types of speech. As such, the Act protected the Christian club’s formation even if its members engaged in religious discussions.
I believe that the principles in this case apply as well to the Christian fraternity at UGA, especially considering that UGA is a public university. And I would also ask the question: who is being discriminated against by there being a Christian fraternity that requires its members to be Christians?