CMDA's The Point

Religious Students and Faculty Face Discriminatory Dogma

April 29, 2019
Photo: Unsplash

by Jonathan Imbody

"Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble."[i]

The cauldron of ideological hostility toward religious principles and people of faith at Yale Law School just boiled over, and its discriminatory policies targeting religious students threaten to ooze throughout academia and beyond. The school’s new anti-religious policy illustrates the extent to which some academic institutions—including medical and dental schools—are willing to go to enforce secular dogma.

Law school withdraws aid from students who serve at faith-based ministries

An opinion piece in USA Today outlines Yale Law School’s new aid policy that penalizes persons of faith:

"Under the guise of nondiscrimination, Yale Law School has announced it will blatantly discriminate. A student is barred from aid if she works at a 
synagogue that gives preference to Jewish applicants, but not if she works at an organization that peddles anti-Semitism yet hires all comers. A graduate 
is blocked from funding if she works for the Christian Legal Society, but not if she works for the Freedom from Religion Foundation. And a graduate is 
not eligible to receive loan assistance if she is a professor at Brigham Young University, but is eligible if she works for Berkeley."

A Yale Law School student reacted to the new policy:

"We are deeply concerned about what this means for the future of religious and conservative students at Yale. Who will want to attend a law school 
that limits your professional opportunities because of your religious convictions? Who will trust a school administration that buckles under pressure 
from an angry mob and throws its religious and conservative students under the bus?"

Yale Law School’s academic version of an anti-religious pogrom advances an alarming campus trend of barring believers from benefits accorded to other students.

Medical and dental student groups face ouster

Medical and dental students who adhere to a biblical faith and/or to pro-life convictions face discrimination at schools that otherwise allow student groups to qualify membership based on sex (fraternities and sororities) and on other criteria related to groups’ missions, but not on religious faith.

Anecdotal reports from Christian Medical & Dental Associations campus chapters include the following:

  • At the School of Dental Medicine in a private research university in Ohio: For 40 years, CMDA students had participated in a medical-dental school chapter, but dental students were denied the ability to form their own chapter:

“The group has not been approved because of the emphasis on God and especially because of the Bible sessions as written in the proposal you send. [We]…feel that it is not appropriate for us to endorse such activities.”

  • At a large Illinois university: Administration officials de-recognized a 30-year-old CMDA chapter. They claimed that the chapter did not “meet the Board of Trustee’s policies regarding non-discrimination” because the chapter’s leaders are held to moral standards. Administrators wrote that because

“…students are not eligible to be leaders of the organization if they do not believe in God…your organization’s registration is denied.”

  • At the School of Dentistry at a midwestern Jesuit university: Government funds were used to build a dental school building, but administrators forbade the CMDA chapter from meeting on campus because they reportedly feared, ironically, legal consequences related to federal non-discrimination laws.

Other campus groups have felt the hot hand of anti-religious discrimination on their necks. The Becket law firm reports:

“In October 2017, the University of Iowa targeted Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) and kicked them off campus because BLinC asks its leaders to share its religious beliefs—even though the university allows other groups to select leaders who share their mission and ideology. Becket is defending BLinC in federal court against the University of Iowa, asking the court to allow BLinC back on campus.

“On February 6, 2019, the court ruled that the university must end its unequal treatment of religious student organizations, and allow BLinC permanently back on campus. In light of continued official statements by the university that its policies would continue to exclude religious student groups, BLinC appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.”

Professors also experience anti-religious targeting

Academic administrators intent on enforcing secular dogma do not limit their targets to religious students; they also train their sights on faith-following faculty.

Psychiatrist and professor Dr. Allan Josephson was interviewed on CMDA’s Christian Doctors Digest and also spoke at the Heritage Foundation on gender issues—to the outrage of some of his academic colleagues.

Walt Heyer, a man who for years identified as a woman, writes in defense of Professor Josephson after his subsequent forced departure from the University of Louisville:

"Dr. Allan Josephson, the Division Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Louisville, has served as a distinguished 
professor in good standing for fifteen years. He scored perfect marks in 2014, 2015 and 2016 on his university reviews.

"But all of that changed in 2017, when he was quickly demoted. This year, the university did not renew Dr. Josephson’s contract, effectively firing him.

"Why? All because a few of his colleagues disagreed with his views on treatment protocols for gender dysphoria in children.

"I have heard Dr. Josephson speak. He is brilliant and likely would destroy his former colleagues in an intellectual face-to-face debate regarding 
the effectiveness and consequences of using affirmation, hormones, and surgery as treatment for childhood gender distress.

"Looking back on my life, I only wish Dr. Josephson would have been my doctor during my childhood."

Faith community and government leaders fight back

Reacting to the surge of anti-religious discrimination on campuses and beyond, the faith-based community and key political leaders are moving to protect freedoms of speech and religious exercise on campuses.

On March 21, the President issued an executive order, the key parts of which are as follows:

Sec. 2. Policy. It is the policy of the Federal Government to: (a)encourage institutions to foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging, and diverse debate, including through compliance with the First Amendment for public institutions and compliance with stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech for private institutions.

Sec. 3. Improving Free Inquiry on Campus. (a) To advance the policy described in subsection 2(a) of this order, the heads of covered agencies shall, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, take appropriate steps, in a manner consistent with applicable law, including the First Amendment, to ensure institutions that receive Federal research or education grants promote free inquiry, including through compliance with all applicable Federal laws, regulations, and policies.

Sec. 6. General Provisions. (b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

While this executive order does not alter existing law or Constitutional provisions, it does send a warning shot across the bow of institutions that have denied students their First Amendment rights of speech, religious exercise or assembly.

For academic administrators who fear the secular dogmatists but otherwise might be inclined to protect these freedoms, it provides them with “cover” to enforce freedom-protecting policies. For those who are not inclined to protect these freedoms (like school administrators who have discriminated against CMDA campus groups), the executive order should make them think twice about pursuing their discriminatory intentions at the risk of federal funding.

CMDA advocates for religious freedom

Having attended off-the-record meetings with high-level Department of Justice officials and with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, I can assure readers that the administration views protecting campus religious freedom as a priority concern. Secretary DeVos recently publicly announced that the federal government “will no longer enforce a restriction barring religious organizations from serving as contract providers of equitable services solely due to their religious affiliation.”

Buttressing that decision is a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case (one of many court cases in which CMDA has participated), Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer (137 S. Ct. 2012 (2017). The Court held in that case that under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, otherwise eligible recipients cannot be disqualified from a public benefit just because of their faith commitments.

At the end of the day, specific laws and the Constitution—and judges’ interpretation of those—will determine the freedoms of faith-based student groups. Thankfully, CMDA has built strong relationships over the years with legal groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, Becket, Christian Legal Society and others that gladly defend our campus groups and your religious freedoms.

Pray, speak out and prepare

What can you do?

Pray for the protection of our nation’s historic commitment to religious freedom; elect and support government officials who will enforce protections; and speak out about instances of anti-religious discrimination.

Speaking out about discrimination promotes justice and helps protect others from discrimination. If you know of instances of discrimination against faith-based student groups and/or health professionals, please visit our Freedom2Care discrimination stories website to relate any incidents. (Alternatively, you may forward any stories and related documentation to me at We can help evaluate the situation and potential for legal counsel and/or defense.

Might you as a student or professional face backlash for speaking out? Count on it and prepare for it.

"You will be hated by all because of My name…"(Mark 13:13, NASB).

As believers preparing to stand firm in our faith convictions in the face of inevitable attacks, we do well to model Daniel, who “…made up his mind that he would not defile himself…” (Daniel 1:8, NASB) and Esther, who vowed, “…if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16, NASB).

We do not know exactly how our tests of faith may come. For an increasing number of believers around the world, a test of faith means a literal gun to the head by an anti-Christian terrorist demanding apostasy or a radical government edict targeting Christians. Others have faced more subtle yet still profound personal tests of fealty to Christ and His kingdom principles—in conversations, interviews, patient encounters, investigations and legal actions.

However our tests come, may God grant us grace, courage and faithfulness to always and forever remain true to Christ in all we are and in all we say and do.

"But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say" (Matthew 10:19, NASB).

"…but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved" (Mark 13:13, NASB).

"...I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.  He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be 
his God and he will be My son" (Revelation 21:6-7, NASB).


Freedom2Care discrimination stories website

Freedom2Care legislative action website

HHS Conscience and Religious Freedom Division

[i] Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act IV, Scene I).


About Jonathan Imbody

Jonathan previously served as CMDA's Federal Policy Analyst and as CMDA's liaison with the federal government in Washington, D.C. A veteran writer of more than 30 years, Jonathan authored Faith Steps, which encourages and equips Christians to engage in public policy issues. He has published more than 100 commentaries in The Washington Post, USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times and many other national publications. Jonathan's writing focuses on public policy issues including freedom of faith, conscience and speech; human trafficking; abortion; assisted suicide; stem cell research; the role of faith in health; international health; healthcare policy; sexual risk avoidance and HIV/AIDS. Jonathan received his bachelor's degree in journalism and speech communications from the Pennsylvania State University, a master's degree from Penn State in counseling and education and a certificate in biblical and theological studies from the Alliance Theological Seminary in New York. Jonathan's wife Amy is an author and leads the Redemptive Education movement. They have four children and four grandchildren.

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