The Secularization of Campus Religion

This article was published in The Blaze on October 4, 2011.

Colleges and universities pride themselves as being vanguards of pluralism.  Nevertheless, in the past decade, more and more institutions have been quietly, but systematically, restricting freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly under the guise of non-discrimination.

The Supreme Court has only added to the confusion.  In a 5-4 decision, the Court allowed a public law school to require all student groups to accept any and all student-comers, not just for membership, but for leadership positions, regardless of whether the students agreed with the groups’ goals and purposes; however, the Court carefully pointed out that the policy applied to all groups, not just religious groups.  Nevertheless the impetus and target for these policies is always religious groups, in particular, orthodox-believing Christian groups. A few of the universities who have already been embroiled in this challenge include Tufts, Hastings Law, Southern Illinois, Arizona State, Montana Law School, Miami University, San Diego State, Rutgers, and the University of North Carolina.

Vanderbilt University is seeking to lead the latest of these challenges. It has removed from its anti-discrimination policy language that would protect religious groups and it has gone so far as to challenge the practice of having leaders of Christian organizations lead Bible studies.  In a letter to the President of the Christian Legal Society, the acting director of religious life explains that requiring leaders to lead Bible Studies “would seem to indicate that officers are expected to hold certain beliefs.” What an idea!  The president of The Democratic Club does not need to know, believe, and promote the principles of the Party?

Carried to its logical extension, the policy means that no organization can maintain integrity of beliefs.  Christians can seek to lead Muslim organizations, Muslims can seek to lead Jewish ones, and Wiccans can lead Catholic fellowships.  The policy now allows for, and is most likely designed to encourage negative activism where students holding views antithetical to an organization use Alinsky-esque techniques of deception, infiltration and manipulation to assume leadership positions in organizations they seek to destroy from the inside.

Mary Poplin, Professor of Education at Claremont Graduate University and author of a new manuscript titled Is Reality Secular: What if Christianity is True, argues that this is one more step in the West’s long march to secularize the world.  Not content with secularizing public life, they have now turned to religious organizations themselves.  These efforts are intended to dilute the beliefs of the religiously minded. Nevertheless, young people are defying the secular trend. The Astins’ annual college survey suggests today’s college students are more committed than ever to pursuing spirituality.

The Obama administration has supported secularization in multiple ways from rescinding aspects of the freedom of conscience to requiring faith based initiatives become multi-faith efforts. This past spring, The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge was sent to thousands of college presidents urging them to create interfaith service projects designed to “build understanding between different communities.” Mark Eddington of Harvard suggests that the campus chapel become an “interfaith laboratory.”

The Obama Administration seemingly believes an unproven but commonly held assumption that it is faith communities that are divisive when in fact, faith communities often fare better together than with secular ones. Filling the campus chapel with interfaith dialogue and projects supports the secular agenda by keeping religious dialogue at the lowest common denominator.

Interfaith work is not new to believing communities and their efforts have never needed secularist prompting. However, interfaith work projects cannot substitute for religious groups on campus because they do not help religious people study and practice their own beliefs.

Clearly, we are witnessing the death of ideological pluralism on campus. The carefully orchestrated assault on religious organizations on college and university campuses contradicts our Constitutional freedoms and it works against the interests of God-fearing students, staff, and faculty.  We must never forget that many of our elite educational institutions, including Harvard, Princeton, and Vanderbilt Universities were started by great men of faith who would turn over in their grave if they could see the march of secular humanism and the advance of atheism at the institutions they founded.

Carol M. Swain is Professor of Political Science and of Law at Vanderbilt University. Her most recent book is Be the People: a Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise. E-mail:, Website:, Twitter: carolmswain

8 Responses to The Secularization of Campus Religion

  1. Chrystina Swain says:

    How true! Thank you Ms. Swain for the courage to stand for truth and righteousness! What an inspiration you are. Speak on!

    I never thought I would live to see my own country literally seek to destroy Christianity. I always thought that would happen many, many years from now. As they seek to vanquish Christianity they set in motion the self-destruction of this great nation the Lord reserved and helped shape, bringing about a great destiny and a form of government for the world to model after. How sad that we have to fight to remember our God and His blessings. May we each wake up to answer the call to defend our God, our Freedoms, our Family, Our Nation. If we each stood up we could remind this administration, this Supreme Court and the rest of the world why we have a Constitution and what principles this Country was founded upon. I’m not speaking of violence, but repenting, returning to our faith’s principles in our own lives and speaking out for truth and righteousness. Coming together to openly say enough is enough.
    Chrystina Swain
    (not related but I really think you have a great last name!)

  2. Joseph Jones says:

    The Treaty of Tripoli says: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Either you were lying or you’re ignorant, you choose. No one should listen to you on the matter at all. This is why I don’t like conservatives, they don’t take the the time to research a topic before making themselves look stupid. And no, I’m not a christian, I’m an Atheist.

    • carolswain says:


      Why do liberals always engage in ad hominen attacks? I write as a strong proponent of freedom of speech, worship, and association. We are operating from different planes. Your comment reveals a lack of understanding of the issues at stake. I think you would greatly benefit from doing some basic research about American history, the function of universities, and how they market themselves to the public.

      Thank you,


  3. Response to: Chystina Swain

    As I read your comments I’ve got to tell you, you’re misleading yourself. First of all I do not see anyone or group trying to vanquish Christianity from our shores. What I see is either secular or atheistic people pushing back against proselytizing Christians in our higher institutions of learning.
    What really raises the hair on my neck is your assessment of the Lord reserving, shaping a great destiny for our nation and forming a government a model for the world. I have to pause and ponder if the Lord thought it is such a great model. Why did he not give it to the first humans who moved from caves to city dwellers?
    The notion that God set these events in motion in establishing this nation starting with the native populations which were massacred, starved driven from their lands forced into reservations that exist to this day. I suggest that you inform yourself by reading ” The Trail of Tears” book then tell us if this God of yours truly loves all his creation?
    You give God the credit for creating our form of government, well lets look at that. First of all, our founding fathers were not Christians, who incidentally called themselves “Deists” I suspect they were atheists, created this wonderful instrument the Constitution. The preamble reflects clues that such is not the case ” the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” they are not referring to the god of Moses nor the christian god and there is no mention of Christ.
    Moving on, they use the generic term “Creator” to describe these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal etc, etc,…………
    Now, since you parroted the statement I challenge you to point the exact place in scripture where god has uttered these words. Of course, they do not exist in scripture they are original from the minds of the founding fathers.
    Carol’s reply to Joseph is disingenuous, he is correct, it’s not about freedom of speech or association, it’s about “separation”, it’s about refuting christians claim that they are the legitimate religion of the U.S. that’s what the Treaty of Tripoli states. Our constitution is secular no matter how much you twist and contort the language.
    We are not on different planes you just don’t want to confront the holes in your hypothesis. You pointed out he lacks understanding and would benefit from basic research. I strongly recommend the same for you.

    “If we read only that which we agree with we learn nothing.”

    Chester Dolen
    Thanks for the format in which to reply Robert Mendez

  4. Robert Mendez says:

    Well, I see you removed my comments can’t handle criticism eh ? I guess that’s what happens when you’re so deep into yourself

  5. Daniel says:

    I just saw this woman in fox news. She has no idea what secular humanism or atheism is. Look at any study about stigma that includes atheists they are the most stigmatized group there is. They have no political power, and you cherry pick incedents that I’m all but positive are less frequent than christians imposing their beliefs upon others (a school prayer for instance, or public school team that recites a bible verse before they play. She also claimed that secular humanists want everyone to be interfaith… again this proves they have no idea what she’s talking about, secular humanists obviously would hope people give up mythology… not combine it into even more silly nonsensical stories. Also the very fact that christian holidays are massively privelaged over all others is lost to her apparently even thought the country stops out of deference. Also lost on her is that public schools and other public institutions are supposed to avoid endorsing a religion, as is the fact that we are delibarately set up as a secular nation. We were founded by some of the least christian men of their time. I suppose her being on fox news should have cued me in but I am shocked that a professor at a very good university could be so ignorant ( I hope you are willfully ignorant and not plain stupid), but as a black woman standing in the same room as rush limbaugh, sean hannity, louie gomhert, todd akin, ted nugent, and antonin scalia I wouldn’t bet against it. And please don’t respond that southern democrats used to be racist… we all know, and those are the very people you stand in a room with now. Your piece is completely at odds with the actual history of the founding of this country and extant circumstances as well.

    • carolswain says:

      Hi Daniel,
      Thank you for writing. I agree that the words didn’t come out correctly. Some people push interfaith activities and political correctness as a means to weaken and destroy orthodox religions. The secular humanist have mounted an organized attack against Christianity. As a Christian, I have a moral obligation to fight to maintain my traditions.



      • Emmanuel says:

        Thanks Jane,this clarifies a lot for me.I have speokn to my son and he has now decided to continue with classes in religion and to opt out of homework and any study.As a sixteen year old boy he is very sure of what he believes and does not believe but hates any focus on him and feels that because everyone else in his school has to do religion he has to too.For me that is the sorriest part of all this is that he wasn’t asked, as a person with rights he should have been asked if he would like to do religious studies or not.I would love to send a letter to the Headmaster as I feel we are really getting somewhere on lots of issues pertaining to catholicism and the more parents who opt out the more normal it will become and before we know it everyone will understand their rights and more importantly the rights of others.My two boys 16 and 18 have just finished reading Dawkins the god delusion’,they are streets ahead of my husband and I and therein lies our future , with tongue firmly in cheek ‘Praise the Lord’,great to be having this discussion,THANKS.

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