A private Baptist college in Louisiana has left the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities over its objection to the 180-school network’s support for the “Fairness for All” compromise.
Louisiana College, a school of about 1,000 undergrads affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, submitted a withdrawal notice to CCCU in January, its president told The Louisiana Baptist Message.
The withdrawal comes months after CCCU officially endorsed the Fairness for All initiative that supports legislative constructs to cement LGBT civil rights protections into federal law in exchange for religious liberty protections.
Louisiana College President Rick Brewer reportedly sent a letter to CCCU President Shirley Hoogstra asserting that Louisiana College could not be "willfully associated" with any entity that endorses Fairness for All legislation even though its long relationship with CCCU has been "beneficial.”
“Sometimes the answer to such matters is to agree to disagree,” Brewer was quoted as writing in the letter. “But the import and impact of the Fairness for All initiative calls for Louisiana College to respectfully disagree with CCCU’s stance.”
Norm Miller, Louisiana College vice president for communications and integrative marketing, confirmed to The Christian Post that the institution dropped out of CCCU because of the association's support for Fairness for All. For other questions, Miller referred CP to the report published by the Baptist Message, the state convention-owned newspaper.
CCCU exists to serve Christian colleges and universities in their mission through public advocacy, professional development, and experiential education. Greta Hays, CCCU’s director of communications and public affairs, told CP Wednesday that CCCU membership is voluntary and “institutions join and leave CCCU at a variety of times and for a variety of reasons.”
“In the case of Louisiana College, who themselves disclosed their reason for leaving, we can confirm that they left CCCU due to Fairness for All,” Hays wrote in an email. “But in general, as it relates to other institutions in the past or future, our practice is not to comment on why individual institutions choose to join or leave our organization — this is something that individual institutions may choose to disclose, but is not our role to comment on.”
Fairness for All supports the passage of federal nondiscrimination legislation that protects on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation while bolstering religious exemptions allowing individuals and institutions to uphold the traditional Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality in their operations without government coercion.
According to CCCU, Fairness for All would ensure that LGBT Americans can't be denied access to employment, housing, financial credit and social service programs funded by the federal government. At the same time, it would ensure that churches and religious organizations "will not be found to be engaging in discriminatory actions simply because of their religious beliefs."
The initiative comes as Christian colleges across the nation are dealing with religious freedom concerns when it comes to enforcement of state discrimination laws.
Although Fairness for All is seen by some evangelical leaders as an important step that “puts down markers” in the public conversation surrounding the intersection of LGBT rights and religious freedom, others have objected to the idea and fear that such legislation will only coerce Christians to embrace LGBT rights.
Shirley Mullen, the president of Houghton College in Western New York and vice chair of CCCU's board of directors, defended the Fairness for All initiative earlier this month when talking with reporters after CCCU’s Presidents Conference in Washington, D.C.
“The debate is not about the importance about the traditional view of marriage,” Mullen contested. “The debate is about the best strategy for preserving this.”
She admits that while there may be some “risk” associated with Fairness for All, she contested that there is also a risk on the LGBT side of the equation.
“Right now, the way our society is polarized, they [religious freedom and LGBT rights] are not on a level playing field,” Mullen contended. “The sense [in society now] is that one side has to win and one side has to lose.”
According to Mullen, the Fairness for All approach is much better than the Equality Act, which is expected to have success in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. The bill would provide legal protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, it would not provide the religious freedom protections that the Fairness for All initiative is seeking.
“[I]t, in fact, stereotypes religious freedom ... as something that leads to violence,” Mullen told reporters. “Now, the Equality Act doesn’t say this but I have actually heard people in higher education say that traditional religious protections are bigotry.”
CCCU is no stranger to having members schools drop out over LGBT issues.
In 2015, two member schools left CCCU after two other member schools — Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University — changed policies allowing for the hiring of faculty members in same-sex relationships.
In September 2015, CCCU board announced the results of a survey of member institution presidents. The survey found that 75 percent of CCCU member presidents supported a recommendation to move Goshen College and EMU to nonmember status. EMU and Goshen College ultimately left CCCU and CCCU reaffirmed its commitment to the “historic Christian view of marriage.”