DeJure and DeFacto Religious Discrimination

DeJure and DeFacto Religious Discrimination September 16, 2014

One of the advantages of blog writing is that at times I can follow up on past research. It becomes possible to address potential criticisms of my work without having to go through the entire process necessary for a peer review article. This is particularly useful when answering the potential issue does not require all of the statistical analysis and literature review normally expected for a research article.

The research in question comes from my book Compromising Scholarship. In this case, I am not responding to a direct attack on the findings of that book but rather an article that provides arguments that can be used to challenge those results. The basic finding of my book is that academics are willing to discriminate against religious and political conservatives when it comes to hiring those individuals for academic positions. Indeed, I found the willingness of academics to discriminate against religious conservatives to be significantly higher than their willingness to discriminate against political conservatives. I have pointed out in a previous blog, that the implication of this work is that religious discrimination is acceptable in academia as long as the “right” group faces discrimination.

Recently a Huffpo article seem to reinforce these problems. Professor Conn argues that Christian colleges should not be accredited because they do not engage in an open search for truth. He argues that there is not sufficient skepticism due to their religious foundations. On that point, I would challenge Dr. Conn, given the political nature of the protest to Regnerus’s findings, to provide evidence that traditional college and universities are open to all potential research answers. It seems that most nonreligious colleges and universities are as adverse to research with politically incorrect findings as Christian colleges are to findings that violate their theistic assumptions of reality. Conn uses as part of his argument the fact that religious schools have theological requirements for hiring. He finishes the article with stating that if faculty are fired for failing a “theological/ideological litmus tests” then they should not be able to call themselves a college or university.

This offers a potential challenge to my previous findings. Perhaps the tendency to be willing to discriminate against conservative Protestants is matched by the willingness of professors at Christian colleges to discriminate against non-Christians. Many of these Christian colleges have policies that allow them to religiously discriminate. Indeed one may argue that because of the overt nature of such policies that non-Christians face more occupational discrimination than Christians within academia. Such a charge is mitigated a bit by the fact that the number of Christian colleges and universities are relatively small in number, but it is worth considering if discrimination is potentially more prominent among Christians on religious campuses than non-Christians on secular campuses.

Conn’s argument is about the potential firing of non-Christian professors on Christian campuses. While the data from my book cannot test the willingness of academics to fire those with what they see as “unacceptable” ideologies, I can see the willingness of academics to hire those individuals. It is not unrealistic to assume that people we are less willing to hire would also be individuals that we are more willing to fire. In my research I asked academics whether they would be more or less willing to hire someone if they found out certain information about that person. I asked them to rate on a 1 to 7 whether knowing this information makes them more or less willing to hire them. Lower scores indicated less willingness to hire that individual. A 4 was scored if the information did not matter at all.

In my original finding the group that academics were less willing to hire was fundamentalists and evangelicals were the second most rejected group. As it is true in the actual academic culture, relatively few respondents worked on religious campuses. So my original findings consisted mostly of academics on non-religious campuses rejecting evangelicals and fundamentalists. Given Conn’s argument, I now question whether the rejection of fundamentalists and evangelicals by academics on non-religious campuses is less than the rejection of atheists on Christian campuses, who I would envision as the more extreme out-group to Christians. If part of the reason why Christian colleges should be not be accredited is because they have ideological barriers, then it should be the case that professors on non-religious campuses are more “fair-minded” in their response to religious out-groups.

When I looked at my results, I found that academics at religious schools were a little less likely to hire someone if they found out that person was an atheist (m = 3.684 on the 1 to 7 scale). But academics at non-religious schools were even more hesitant to hire fundamentalists (m = 3.09) and evangelicals (m = 3.352). Both means are statistically different from the atheist score at p < .0001 for fundamentalists and p < .0002 for evangelicals. Scholars at non-religious schools are more much more likely to enforce an ideological litmus test against conservative Protestants than scholars at religious schools are against atheists applying for work at their institutions. Of course it is possible that the scholars on religious campuses are not representative of the administrators enforcing religious barriers to new applicants. However, it is quite likely that scholars at religious schools understand the institutional hiring constraints and would incorporate those restraints into their answers. Conn contended that religious schools should not be accredited because they reject nonreligious scholars. My research suggests that if he is right then there are a lot of nonreligious schools that should lose their accreditation as well.

My original calculations explored all religious schools, which are the type of schools that Conn argues should lose their accreditation. However, restrictive ideology may be more of a factor at Protestant colleges and universities. To test for this possibility, I looked at the willingness of academics to hire atheists at only Protestant campuses and compared it to scholars at non-religious campuses. Scholars at Protestant campuses were less willing to hire atheists than scholars at religious campuses in general (m = 3.327). This score did not vary to a statistically significant degree than the scores given to fundamentalists and evangelicals candidates from the professors at nonreligious schools. While the score for evangelicals from scholars at nonreligious schools does not greatly differ from the atheists score, the score for atheists does seem quite a bit lower. My sample only included 55 scholars who worked at Protestant campuses and this number of respondents does not offer enough statistical power for me to have confidence in the null hypothesis comparing scholars from nonreligious schools accepting fundamentalists and scholars from Protestant schools accepting atheists. When race/ethnicity scholars teach about racial segregation, we often talk about de facto and de jure segregation. There was segregation established by the laws of the country and that which is accomplished by the informal norms of the society. In the same manner we can talk about religious schools that may have policies that favor those of similar theological beliefs (de jure) and nonreligious schools without such official policies but have informal norms and values that act as religious restrictions (de facto). My little experiment indicates that informal norms are just as powerful, and perhaps even more powerful, than institutional rules as it concerns the establishment of ideological boundaries.
The distinctions of de jure and de facto segregation have historically been important because majority group individuals are not very receptive to dealing with racism unless they can be shown explicit rules that can be documented as racist. I suspect that many scholars contend that prejudice against conservative Protestants does not have real influence if it does not result in explicit rules that work to the disadvantage of those Protestants. But such rules are not necessary for religious prejudice to have an effect on the scholars who do not have “acceptable” religious beliefs. Since very few scholars struggle with being racist, it is easy for them to see how racial prejudice can have an effect on people of color even if such prejudice does not result in overly racist rules or laws. Yet those same scholars may have blinders to the religious biases that play themselves out even at academic institutions that pledge religious neutrality. If we are going to use openness to accepting those with distinctive ideas from ourselves to assess accreditation, then we cannot merely eliminate religious colleges and universities with that standard. We cannot go by just the stated creeds of religious colleges and universities but also must look at the willingness of other colleges to exclude even when such exclusion is not in their official statements. Just like we cannot rely on altering de jure laws to address racial segregation, we would also have to find ways to deal with de facto ways in which academics also exclude ideological out-groups. As it concerns racial issues, measures of affirmative action not relying on documentation of overt efforts at racial discrimination have been used to address such issues. Such measures address racial inequality with timetables and goals along with requiring documentation that criteria set for jobs or educational institutions do not have a racial disparate impact. I am not certain what type of “affirmative action” type of measures we can use in an academic setting, but without such a measure, any talk about punishing Christian colleges for ideological closed-mindedness is premature.

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