Thursday, March 14, 2019

At Yale, the Federalist Society loses friends and alienates people (Michael Simkovic)

Yale’s Federalist Society provided a platform on campus to an anti-gay group which has been identified by mainstream media organizations and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group because—unlike some religious groups that have misgivings about the theological acceptability of homosexual acts—this group has advocated for criminal prosecution of homosexuals by secular authorities at least as recently as 2013 (see here, here, and here). 

Many Yale students predictably responded by losing respect for both the Federalist Society and for the students who invited the alleged hate group to campus.

Although most Christians—especially young and highly educated Christians—favor greater acceptance of gays, a leader of the Federalist Society claimed that by inviting the anti-gay group he was simply “attempting to be a Christian at Yale Law School.”

The numerous Christian groups that are active at Yale did not band together to invite to campus a group that has advocated criminal prosecution of homosexuals.  That decision was the sole prerogative of the Federalist Society or some of its members. 

The leader of the local Federalist Society’s account of events appears here.

He acknowledges that he is viscerally angry at his classmates, but praises the Yale faculty for supporting free speech.

The entire unfortunate turn of events could have been avoided if the Federalist Society vetted its speakers more carefully and favored substance over shock value.  There are plenty of other highly capable lawyers who can argue effectively for religious freedom in situations that challenge progressive views of gay rights, and who are not associated with any actual or suspected hate groups.

If the Federalist Society leader had allowed himself to cool off before publishing his essay, he might have considered that the best way to demonstrate “Christian love” and “forgiveness”—as he claims to want to do—might not be to refer to those who disagree with him about controversial social issues as "over-the-top" "enemies" organized in "an alphabet soup of identity groups" which "attacked" him with "snarky, vitriolic . . . progressive" words because they are neither "adults" nor "serious thinkers" "even by Yale standards."   

I can empathize with the Federalist Society leader’s aversion to the harshness of internet trolls these days. 

But he should not suggest that those who disapprove of or could be hurt by his actions include only gays, women, racial and religious minorities, and liberals.

Why are leaders of the Federalist Society mischaracterizing Christianity as monolithically hostile to gays and other minority groups?  Intent is always perilous to guess.  However, given Republican donors' history of nationally coordinating provocation campaigns that are executed through local campus chapters, conservative groups may be attempting to incite conflict between Christians and other progressive and moderate groups.  Many Christians and progressive, moderate and conservative groups favor family-friendly economic policies and lower taxes on churches and religious schools, including non-profit universities.  While such policies provide economic benefits to society as a whole, they are often opposed by political donors who fear that they could be funded through higher taxes on the very wealthy

Accusing universities of being anti-Christian is a conservative political tactic that dates back to the book that launched the McCarthyist and FBI informant William F. Buckley's career.

Whether or not conflict is being intentionally provoked here, a more constructive approach for all concerned would be to focus on building solidarity across ideological lines rather than engaging in such polarizing conflict on social issues.

Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic | Permalink