Orthodox Jews, Muslims, evangelical Christians and Catholics among students and faculty at Auburn may be surprised to learn that a group of professors in the College of Education considers them mentally ill and a danger to those who hold secular views about sexuality.
Without license or data for their diagnoses, they claim the recognition that humans are either male or female is “transphobic” and the conviction that sex should be restricted to natural marriage is “homophobic.” Phobias are mental illnesses.
Religious students have some actual cause for fear if they face reprisals from these professors for affirming the scientific fact that sex is determined at conception and is an unbreachable biological barrier between males and females, or defending the ethical principle that sexual relations should be restricted to natural marriage.
Given these risks, the words of the Auburn Creed have special significance: “I believe in a spirit that is not afraid.”
Are religious students and faculty dangerous? The professors argue that “no student at Auburn University . . . should encounter language or practices that devalue their [sic] personhood or humanity.” Since religious language and practices affirm the male/female binary and the restriction of sexual relations to natural marriage, those who state their convictions are on a collision course with those determined to redefine sexual ethics.
Conflicts among deeply held values are to be expected at a university, particularly one like Auburn that explicitly protects free speech and the civil exchange of ideas. Both religious students and their secular critics are challenged to rethink their assumptions and build consistent worldviews in light of the best evidence.
Such rethinking, far from “devaluing personhood or humanity,” is essential for developing clear and consistent ideas that incorporate the findings of science as well as the ancient wisdom of humanity. Intellectual diversity challenges us to forge defensible ideas with enduring validity.
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We all want “the culture and systems within the university transformed to be more welcoming, affirming and just,” but that includes being welcoming, affirming, and just to religious and conservative students and faculty as well as those who reject the religious understanding of sexual ethics.
Religious members of the Auburn family, too, want to be respected for their diverse views rather than being coerced to conform to a rigid orthodoxy. They want a campus where they can explore ideas, where they will not face sanctions for holding different points of view.
The goal of attracting a rich diversity of students and faculty will not be advanced by imposing uniformity of thought. A campus without mutual respect and the free exchange of ideas, especially about core questions of sexual ethics, will be less welcoming to students with conservative and religious convictions.
If orthodox Jews, Muslims, evangelical Christians and Catholics are told to shut up, Auburn will be a decidedly less diverse university.
Bruce Murray is an associate professor of reading education at Auburn University.
The Auburn Plainsman welcomes letters from students, as well as faculty, administrators, alumni and those not affiliated with the University.
The opinions expressed in columns and letters represent the views and opinions of their individual authors.
These opinions do not necessarily reflect the Auburn University student body, faculty, administration or Board of Trustees.
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