The recent missive from Congressperson Smith complains about the attack on religious clubs on public university campuses. The article cites the 1st amendment free speech clause, but never mentions the first clause: the establishment clause. The establishment clause of the First Amendment has been interpreted as calling for separation of church and state.
The Founding Fathers made many statements regarding the dangers of religion in government and government in religion. One of the concerns was public taxes going to support selected religious sects.* The free exercise clause in the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting religious beliefs and practices, although exceptions have been made in situations in which ceremonial practices threaten an individual’s safety or welfare.
There are many cases that show none of our rights are absolute. The classic example is shouting “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. Speech that advocates ideas or arguments is protected as free speech, but speech that incites violence or creates a “clear and present danger” to society is unconstitutional. “Fighting words” are not protected by the First Amendment, because they inflict injury or incite violence.
It may be difficult to balance the government's need not to promote religion against the need to not restrict the practice of religion. Smith states, “College campuses should not be a place hostile to anyone, but especially those just trying to live a Christian life.” That statement is a clear example of a U.S. government official promoting a particular religion. That is in violation of the establishment clause.
According to the University of Iowa, the complaints involve actions by the club that violates the Iowa Civil Rights Act, which requires student organization membership be open to anyone, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, gender identity or other protected class.
So, Smith seems to be defending religious freedom to discriminate, something he starts this piece complaining about. He goes on to make unfounded accusations about the motivations of colleges and universities. It seems clear to me from reading some of the case documents the colleges and universities are trying to balance religious freedom against freedom from discrimination.
I certainly agree with the question, “What are we teaching the next generation if someone in more power can forcibly silence views they disagree with, simply because they can.” That should have been a question generated by the behavior of President Trump, not by religionists trying to force their views on others.
*The first round of the COVID-19 relief package gave about $10 billion of public tax dollars to religious organizations.
Willow Springs, Mo.