Kersten Lauds FIRE’s Religious Liberty Efforts
March 9, 2006
The Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE) is a Philadelphia-based organization that defends constitutional rights, including freedom of speech, due process and religious liberty, on college campuses. In 2003, FIRE commissioned twin surveys of 1,037 students and 306 administrators at more than 300 colleges nationwide, testing their knowledge of various aspects of the First Amendment.
The survey revealed a troubling cluelessness about our most fundamental freedoms.
For example, only 30 percent of students and 21 percent of administrators named freedom of religion when asked to name any First Amendment right. Only 2 percent of students and 6 percent of administrators knew that freedom of religion is the very first freedom that the First Amendment addresses. One in four students and 11 percent of administrators surveyed could not name any of the specific rights the First Amendment guarantees.
This lack of rudimentary constitutional knowledge may explain why some college administrators feel free to engage in heavy-handed—and sometimes illegal—regulation of campus religious activity. For example, according to FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, FIRE intervened at the University of North Carolina when administrators threatened to deny official recognition to the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship because it required its leaders to be Christians. At Penn State, FIRE stepped in when the Young Americans for Freedom were informed that its constitution and mission statement were “discriminatory” because they described rights as “God-given.” (America’s Declaration of Independence, by the way, says much the same thing.)
Last week, FIRE took a significant step toward guaranteeing religious freedom in our own back yard. Lukianoff reports that after months of pressure from FIRE, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire agreed to drop its policy banning student resident assistants from leading Bible studies (or Torah or Koran studies) in their dormitories. UW System President Kevin Reilly proposed repealing the ban, though the UW Board of Regents must approve.
Ignorance about America’s founding principles doesn’t just produce fodder for late-night comics. It can endanger our freedoms.