When it comes to theology and doctrine, the world of higher education is a complex place.
For example, did you know that there are liberal Catholic colleges as well as conservative Catholic colleges? Then there are other schools that are left of center and right of center.
There are liberal Baptist colleges and universities and there are conservative Baptist options, as well. Once again, there are myriad options somewhere in the middle. Ditto for Lutheran schools. Ditto for schools with strong or weak ties to Presbyterian and Methodist thought.
At the same time, there are lots of private colleges and universities that are "secular," or, at the very least, free of any ties -- past or present -- to a specific religious tradition. Some are quite liberal, on matters of culture and morality, and a few are conservative.
So here is a tough question: How does the government relate to all of these private campuses? How does it relate to them, in terms of government funds and tax issues, without sliding into a kind of "viewpoint discrimination" that says secular intellectual content is acceptable and religious content is uniquely dangerous? Or even trickier, should "progressive" (or perhaps nearly nonexistent) religious intellectual content and doctrine be acceptable, while "orthodox" religious content is not?
Or how about this: Should the government strive to treat all private schools the same, no matter what kind of doctrine -- secular or religions, liberal of conservative -- defines life in these voluntary associations of believers or nonbelievers?
Now, I realize that this was quite an overture for a GetReligion post. Here is why I wrote it: There are some important voices and points of view missing in the New York Times story that ran with this headline: "DeVos Moves to Loosen Restrictions on Federal Aid to Religious Colleges." In addition to its focus on evangelical schools, this story really needed input from educational leaders on liberal religious campuses and even secular private campuses.
First, here is how the story opens:
WASHINGTON -- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a lifelong advocate of Christian education, moved on Wednesday to loosen federal regulations on religious colleges and universities, after a Supreme Court decision that restricted states from denying some kinds of aid to religious institutions.
The measure is part of a sweeping deregulatory agenda for the Education Department announced on Wednesday by the White House budget office, which outlined several rules and regulations for the department to scrap or amend. Among those are rules that restrict faith-based entities from receiving federally administered funding. ...
Education Department officials appear to be targeting regulations that would pose a legal risk after the Supreme Court ruled in June that states must sometimes provide aid to faith-based organizations.
That is a reference to Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer. Click here for details.
Now, there are complex issues here and the church-state controversy is real. As the story notes, there is also a difference between the government providing funds for facilities that are used for religious purposes (say chapels or some classrooms) and those that are not (recreational facilities).
But the viewpoint discrimination issue looms in the background. When dealing with PRIVATE schools, should the government provide support to "secular" schools (whatever that means, in practice) or liberal religious schools, but not to conservative schools that have doctrines that clash with the current cultural norms? Yes, we are primarily talking about disputes linked to the Sexual Revolution -- yet another clash between the First Amendment and emerging "sexual liberty" laws and regulations.
Later on, in the Times piece, there is this very appropriate and necessary piece of reporting:
Advocates for religious education cheered the Trinity decision, which they said bolstered the constitutional case for allowing taxpayer funds to pay for vouchers to religious elementary and secondary schools. But few observers saw implications for higher education.
Now they do.
“We appreciate Secretary DeVos’s commitment to ensuring students are able to obtain quality educations at the institutions of higher education that will best serve their needs, including religious colleges and universities,” President Shirley V. Hoogstra of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities said in a statement. “Eliminating or revising regulations that impose undue and outdated restrictions on religious institutions is an important and welcome development.”
A personal note: I have taught in two CCCU schools and, 20 years, was the director or co-director of a CCCU journalism program based in Washington, D.C.
Truth is, while the CCCU is a crucial voice when it comes to private and religious higher education, it is not the only voice that matters. The Times report seems to assume -- or maybe it was just a lack of space -- that these court rulings and actions take by DeVos would only affect conservative/evangelical schools.
What do leaders of other private educational associations think of what is going on? What other voices and points of view are involved in this discussion?
What about the leaders of Catholic schools, on the doctrinal left and right? Would these strategic changes affect Jewish schools, on the left and right? What about liberal Protestant schools? At this point, what is the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities saying on some of these issues?
Would educational leaders on the religious left appreciate having a chance to be treated the same as secular private schools, when it comes to certain types of government funding and programs? Might some educators in that corner of the world agree with DeVos on some issues and not others?
In other words, evangelical Protestants are not the only game in town when it comes to church-state issues, even if most mainstream press coverage makes it seem that way.
This is a case in which journalists need to seek out private-education voices on the left, as well as on the right, to get a broader view of these debates and government money and private education.