Censorship, or Legitimate Church Discipline, at Baylor University?

By Warner, Tracy; Dreher, Rod | The Masthead, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Censorship, or Legitimate Church Discipline, at Baylor University?


Warner, Tracy, Dreher, Rod, The Masthead


TRACY WARNER: Students on the staff of The Baylor Lariat should be commended for their courage in publishing an editorial February 27 supporting gay marriage.

"Just as it isn't fair to discriminate against someone for their skin color, heritage or religious beliefs, it isn't fair to discriminate against someone for their sexual orientation," the editorial concluded. "Shouldn't gay couples be allowed to enjoy the benefits and happiness of marriage, too?"

Not surprisingly, the university swiftly overreacted. University president Robert B. Sloan Jr. expressed outrage over the editorial, citing university policy "prohibiting the advocacy of any understandings of sexuality that are contrary to Biblical teaching" Sloan, in a statement printed in the Lariat, said the administration "respect[s] the right of students to hold and express divergent viewpoints," then immediately contradicted that statement by writing "we do not support the use of publications such as the Lariat, which is published by this university, to advocate positions that undermine foundational Christian principles."

In criticizing the editorial and suggesting future censorship of similar editorials, the Baylor administration discouraged the Lariat student journalists from challenging common wisdom and taking a controversial position for the betterment of aggrieved people who are in the minority--ideal traits of editorialists that educators should praise instead of pummel.

ROD DREHER: We've talked about this a bit on the Dallas Morning News blog. It seems to me that in deciding how one feels about what the Baylor administration did, we should keep in mind that this is a private religious school run by a largely conservative Christian denomination. There is a stated policy setting limits on editorial comment in the school paper, which is not independent of the school administration. Nobody is forced to go to Baylor, nobody is forced to work at the school paper, and Baylor is not a state school dependent on taxpayer support.

It's fatally easy to whack the Baylor administration in this matter, because there's no easier target in American journalism than the Religious Right. I think the Jim Bryant piece from the Houston Chronicle is snide and obnoxious. The Baylor administration may have made the wrong move here--I don't know, because I haven't read the editorial--but to haul out the stereotypical and abusive language ("Bubba," "ayatollahs," "Bible-toting babysitter school") to defend the student journalists is childish; those students deserve better.

What I'd like to see in commentary and analysis is some genuine attempt made to come to terms with what private, religious universities are for, and how this case at Baylor highlights the clash between two values Americans hold dear: freedom of religion and freedom of the press. It's easy to get huffy about those supposedly neanderthal Texas Baptists in Waco, but how would we feel if the student newspaper at Yeshiva wrote an editorial defending so-called Messianic Jews as authentically Jewish and the school administration came down on the editorial board for violating a policy saying the school paper cannot publish editorials contrary to Jewish beliefs? Doesn't the private religious university have a right, and perhaps even a responsibility, to defend its religious identity?

Anyway, regarding Baylor president Robert Sloan, those of us with total freedom to write any editorial we want regardless of the publisher's views may cast the first stone.

TRACY WARNER: This has always been the excuse that high school principals and college presidents, including those of public universities, have used to censor the student press. A couple of points:

1. The Los Angeles Times reported: "Baylor officials said they consider the Lariat an independent publication. And like campus newspapers across the country, it routinely takes positions that run contrary to those of the university administration. …

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