Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tocqueville and The Religious Liberty Crisis At Vanderbilt University

I posted this link earlier. See Vanderbilt Catholics Unites For Religious Freedom and Association On Campus Today ( Wearing White Nationwide ) .

Of particular importance is this link Why I'm wearing white that describes the situation and crisis .

I was struck how much this had to do with a Mirrors of Justice post yesterday at The Importance of Institutional Pluralism. Now Vandy is a private University and does not have all the restrictions on it a public University has on it. So I recognize there are different legal dynamics going on. However it really struck me at root of this is a ethos we are seeing in the Government itself on other matters.

First let me excerpt that post:

...It strikes me that one’s view of the HHS mandate will often vary depending on whether one embraces “the logic of congruence,” in Nancy Rosenblum’s phrase, or a robust commitment to the freedom of civil society (churches, civic organizations, families, etc.), including toleration for views one sharply disagrees with. If the former, then you just have to bide your time until your side has a grasp on the levers of state power, and so, as Douthat points out, the increased authority of the state in these matters will eventually gore everyone’s ox--liberal or conservative, religious or not--depending on the politics of the administration.

As Rosenblum and Robert Post put it in the introduction to Civil Society and Government (Princeton, 2002):

Advocates of congruence fear that the multiplication of intermediate institutions does not mediate but balkanizes public life. They are apprehensive that plural associations and groups amplify self-interest, encourage arrant interest-group politics, exaggerate cultural egocentrism, and defy government. What is needed, in their view, is a strong assertion of public values and policies designed to loosen the hold of particular affiliations, so that members will be empowered to look beyond their groups and to identify themselves as members of the larger political community. The “logic of congruence” envisions civil society as reflecting common values and practices “all the way down.”

All of this was diagnosed by Tocqueville, who saw that individualism and statism are reinforcing over time, crowding out religious and other forms of associational life for the allegiance of citizens:

As in periods of equality no man is compelled to lend his assistance to his fellow men, and none has any right to expect much support from them, everyone is at once independent and powerless. These two conditions, which must never be either separately considered or confounded together, inspire the citizen of a democratic country with very contrary propensities. His independence fills him with self-reliance and pride among his equals; his debility makes him feel from time to time the want of some outward assistance, which he cannot expect from any of them, because they are all impotent and unsympathizing.

In this predicament he naturally turns his eyes to that imposing power which alone rises above the level of universal depression. Of that power his wants and especially his desires continually remind him, until he ultimately views it as the sole and necessary support of his own weakness. It frequently happens that the members of the community promote the influence of the central power without intending to.

Democratic eras are periods of experiment, innovation, and adventure. There is always a multitude of men engaged in difficult or novel undertakings, which they follow by themselves without shackling themselves to their fellows. Such persons will admit, as a general principle, that the public authority ought not to interfere in private concerns; but, by an exception to that rule, each of them craves its assistance in the particular concern on which he is engaged and seeks to draw upon the influence of the government for his own benefit, although he would restrict it on all other occasions.

If a large number of men applies this particular exception to a great variety of different purposes, the sphere of the central power extends itself imperceptibly in all directions, although everyone wishes it to be circumscribed. Thus a democratic government increases its power simply by the fact of its permanence. Time is on its side, every incident befriends it, the passions of individuals unconsciously promote it; and it may be asserted that the older a democratic community is, the more centralized will its government become.

Democracy in America, Vol. II, Pt. 4, Ch. 3

Is not that logic of congruence really what is going on here? There is of course the " Nation of Vanderbilt " that includes Government ( administration), social services ( food , FOOTBALL, housing ) , and of course the education component.

But like all places of higher learning there are other important Independent Institutions that play a vital role in life of the country of Vanderbilt.

Those might be social ( Frats), charitable and service ( Circle K ), political ( Young Republicans and Democrats ) , ethnic ( the Black Student Union) and needless to say religious.

It appears that there is some concern that people of a LGBT orientations or various degrees of same sex attraction might be discriminated against. At least that seems ONE of the concerns of the Vandy administration. Therefore something needs to be done about these " plural associations and groups that amplify self-interest, encourage arrant interest-group politics, exaggerate cultural egocentrism, and defy government ".

Now I am not sure there is really any real threat to the rights of LGBT students or anyone else. But damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead anyway. The fact that if the policy results in a former Baptist now Catholic heading the Baptist Student Association is no matter.

This all seems pretty radical ,and I think the bigger issue of congruence is at play. What we see at Vandy is playing out on a larger scale nationwide. Where will this attitude and policy choice lead in the end is what we don't know.


Anonymous said...

I was not a history major, but I have never heard of the Roman Catholic Church being any paragon of religious liberty. I seem to remember they conduct inquisitions, and in the past burned people at the stake for attempting religious liberty. And wasn't there a man who wrote his questions, and nailed it to the door, out of fear of the Catholics. Is Vanderbilt doing anything to any churches in Nashville, Catholic or otherwise? Are they trying to stop any students from attending the House of Worship which he or she chooses, or none at all if that is their choice? Students enroll in Vanderbilt University of their own free will, and pay BIG money to do so, and I am not likely to believe that they are doing so if they are being so oppressed and abused. With this terrible "crisis" of religious liberty going on there, perhaps they would be happier at a place like Bob Jones University. I wish them every success at breaking off those shackles of bondage which are holding them in religious oppression at Vanderbilt, so they can find a place of religious liberty.

James H said...

Well needless to say I don't live in the land of the Inquistion but the United States

Also "Freedom of Religion" is bigger than "Freedom of Worship"

Anonymous said...

But are these people who are wealthy enough to attend Vanderbilt University, and are completely free to go anywhere they choose, and do anything they choose, really expecting anyone to take them seriously in this claim that they are suffering religious oppression? It is ridiculously disingenuous. It is such a blatant and obvious attempt to play a political card that they were never even dealt. Someone should have told them that they can only play a card if they have it in their hand. If they were at BPCC, and BPCC was the only school that circumstances would allow them to get an education, then I might pay attention to a claim of religious oppression.

James H said...

I am not saying they are being oppressed like lets say Christians in China. No one is making that argument.

But I think the Vandy policy is rather extreme even for private colleges and the Alumni and students have an investment there in their University and it's character.

I also think it sends a bad sign overrall