Is the secular left repectful of academic freedom?

A story from the Vancouver Sun. (H/T Mary)


Since 2006, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has been targeting small, private, accredited, and invariably Christian, universities. Its method is to emit vague accusations that codes of conduct of such institutions somehow violate CAUT’s definition of academic freedom. It then appoints its own “commissioners” to “investigate” whether the schools are guilty as charged.

Last year, it used these tactics against Trinity Western University in the Fraser Valley. More recently, it has turned it sights on a Mennonite school in Manitoba, a Baptist academy in the Maritimes and similar Christian schools across Canada.

What’s risible about CAUT’s singling out of these Christian schools is that, by its own admission, it has absolutely no legislative or administrative authority to conduct such investigations.

CAUT has been around since 1951, primarily as a labour advisory body for academic staff. It also plays the role of equal opportunity foghorn on campus free-speech issues. Demonstrating classic mission creep, though, it has appointed itself Canada’s guardian of academic freedom and launched its campaign to root out attempts by universities to “ensure an ideologically or religiously homogeneous staff.”

The meaning of academic freedom is what CAUT says it means. A CAUT document has a footnote to give authority to what it calls the “conventional understanding of academic freedom” — and then cites itself as the authority.

CAUT’s campaign impugns the legal rights of faith-based institutions to require employees to conduct themselves in ways consistent with their affiliation to the organization’s religious mission. Settled human rights law and religious freedom rulings from the Supreme Court of Canada entitle such organizations — non-academic and academic alike — to do just that.

As Don Hutchinson, senior counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said recently about the case of Heintz versus Christian Horizons: “Christian institutions … have particular rights that permit them to engage in selective hiring, requiring their employees to agree with their mission, beliefs, and behaviours — provided the institution adequately explains … why they are essential to the performance of the individual’s work . . . .” Such rights are not, Hutchinson stressed, special exemptions or loopholes or simply sneaky ways to impose “Christian morality” within the academy. They are legal rights, straight up.

Sending unauthorized “commissioners” to snoop into entirely legal conduct is not just impudent. It offends the very fundamentals of freedom.

This is the kind of danger that needs to be on the map in Christian circles. Is it?

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