Despite laws enacted to protect them, students have been attacked, robbed, denied admission and discriminated against solely because of their religious beliefs.
Saint Anthony’s Catholic school of New York is facing a legal battle over whether it had the right to choose its own principal.
Less than one year ago, a Middle Eastern student at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho was attacked and stabbed three times in the arm and called a “terrorist” because of his appearance, according to the Idaho State Journal.
ISU housing reported 23 burglaries in the homes of foreign students surrounding the wave of prejudice and racism. DVDs filled with anti-Muslim messages were left on vehicles in ISU parking lots. About 1,000 of the foreign students at ISU came from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the Idaho State Journal reported.
As students at a religious college, many who attend BYU-Idaho do not often consider the fact that their religious freedoms could be infringed upon or limited. Numerous court cases are highlighting the growing issue of whether or not someone can freely practice their religion while attending college or university.
Last year, a bill was proposed in California that would “strip religious schools receiving state student aid of their exemptions from Title IX and state laws that give special preferences to selected groups of people,” according to The Federalist.
Senate Bill 1146, if passed, would make it so universities could not assign students to housing based on their sex or extend any form of discipline to students who violate faith-based rules relating to sexual matters without losing Pell Grant and Cal Grant money.
According to the Student Press Law Center, an organization that advocates free speech on college campuses, Brandon Jenkins, an applicant for the radiation program at The Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland, was rejected admission because of an open declaration of faith during his interview process. When asked what the most important thing to him was, he responded: his God.
“I understand that religion is a major part of your life and that was evident in your recommendation letters, however, this field is not the place for religion,” said the program director in an email to Jenkins.
According to the Student Press Law Center, Jenkins filed a lawsuit against CCBC, but it was dismissed in 2015 when the judge ruled the college did have the right to discriminate admission based on Jenkins’ personal opinions.
The fight for freedom
A healthy balance between anti-discrimination laws and Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws seem unlikely with each new court case.
“It looks like right now that the discrimination laws seem to take priority over Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws,” said Mike Miles, a BYU-I Political Science professor. “(But) there are pretty robust constitutional protections for religious institutions.”
California State University suspended a Christian club called Cru for the 2014-2015 school year after the administration stated the members did not have the right to discriminate who was selected for leadership roles after it was found they were requiring leaders to declare acceptance of Christ, according to The Washington Times.
The club was still allowed to meet but was charged upwards of $1,000 an hour for a room rental on campus, causing membership numbers to drop drastically.
Cru was eventually reinstated at CSU after school leadership altered bylaws to ensure anyone could apply for Cru leadership positions but they could be required to go through an application and interview process before being approved by Cru according to The Washington Times.
What to do
Casey Ann Hurley, a business management professor, said students need to take a serious interest in religious freedom. Students can become educated on the subject by taking the religious freedom course on campus.
“(If we say), ‘We want religious freedom; we don’t care what anybody else has,’ if Christians are seen as saying, ‘We don’t care if Muslims have religious freedom,’ for example, then what right do Christians have to turn around and say, ‘We expect to have religious freedom,’” Hurley said.
These chances to fight for blanket freedom of religion will only arise if students put themselves outside of their comfort zones and seek to understand what is going on outside of their circles.
If any BYU-I student feels they have been discriminated against, he or she can follow the recommendations given in the Statement of Non-Discrimination. Contact the Dean of Students Office, 290 Spencer W. Kimball Building, or call 208-496-9200.