What's good for the private is good for the public

Thursday, April 26, 2001 at 1:00am

Members of the faculty and student body of Belmont University have every right to encourage their school to modify its requirements that all faculty members adhere to particular tenets of a certain Protestant theology. Were I a member of that academic community, I would likely join their efforts. But I acknowledge the university has every right to reject their suggestions without even offering an explanation why it has done so.

Belmont University, like many other private institutions with religious affiliations, enjoys certain exemptions from equal opportunity employment statutes. Hiring practices which would constitute religious discrimination in other sectors of the workplace simply do not apply. Whether Belmont chooses to retain or change its religious qualifications for faculty members is entirely an internal matter, as it should be. No matter how this issue plays out, Belmont University will remain a valuable asset to the Nashville community.

But if common courtesy is part of the Christian life perspective Belmont professes to advocate, then the university should make it clearly understood to all potential faculty job applicants what religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs, result in automatic disqualification for faculty positions. To not have done so in the past may be nothing more than an innocent oversight.

But in the light of the current campus controversy, not clearly defining the religious qualifications for all future job applicants will at least be a serious lapse in professional propriety. At its worst, it is an implication that the university is reluctant to publicize within the broader academic community the religious restrictions it imposes upon its faculty and deems necessary to the scholastic and spiritual well-being of its student body.

The recruiting literature of any educational institution with a religious litmus test for its faculty or student body should truthfully advertise that "No Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, et al. need apply." Or rather than list those excluded, simply state "position open to only practicing ............." followed by a brief notation of its federal exemptions. Job seekers deserve this critical information so they do not waste their time cultivating trees which will not bear fruit for them or cast their pearls of qualifications before those who will not appreciate them.

I support the rights of these institutions to apply the religious criteria of their choice in formulating their faculty and student body. But it is the ultimate hypocrisy for schools and religious denominations availing themselves of religious affiliation exemptions to advocate that public schools post the Ten Commandments or in any other way promote or specifically recognize any religion in the classroom or at any school function.

The pluralistic student body of the secular public school system is best served by being free of all religious influence. For those who wish a particular religious outlook be incorporated into a school

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