Shirley Hoogstra of the CCCU Explains Fairness for All

Fairness for All

Last week we introduced readers to the Fairness for All Act.

Over at The Anxious Bench blog, historian Chris Gehrz has published his interview with Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).  The CCCU is one of the bill’s sponsors.

Here is a taste:

For those who haven’t been following this story until now… What is being proposed in Fairness for All?

For the past three years, the CCCU has been engaged in conversations with a broad coalition of faith and LGBT leaders, two “sides” that have often viewed their protections as being violated by the existence of protections for the other.

The result of this dialogue is a bill called Fairness for All, a balanced legislative approach that preserves religious freedom and addresses LGBT civil rights under federal law.

Fairness for All is centered on two core principles:

  1. Religious persons should not be forced to live, work, or serve their community in ways that violate their sincerely held beliefs.
  2. No American should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination, or lose their home or livelihood, simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Fairness for All provides long-term protections for Christian higher education and other faith-based organizations. The proposed legislation ensures that Christian colleges and universities can hire for mission, maintain their accreditation, maintain access to federal student aid, maintain their tax-exempt status, and continue to offer professional licensure — all while remaining true to their religious convictions.

Tell us a bit of the history of FFA: when did the CCCU begin to consider advocating for it? Why did it come back into the spotlight this year?

Over the last decade, Christian colleges and universities — along with adoption agencies, rescue missions, and others — have been at the tip of the spear for religious freedom challenges, many of which have stemmed from the expansion of LGBT civil rights. These challenges make it possible to imagine a future where Christian colleges that maintain a biblical perspective on marriage and sexual ethics lose accreditation, community support, partnerships, and grants, and where their students lose access to student aid, practicums, and professional licensure because of their religious beliefs and practices.

While executive orders and attorney general memos on religious freedom are helpful, they have a possible built-in expiration date— they can simply be undone by a subsequent president. Likewise, while litigation will always remain necessary to overturn clear constitutional violations, the court strategy is limited to the question presented and offers a piecemeal approach to addressing the numerous tension points that have or will arise between government, Christian higher education, and other religious organizations. Further, research by law professors shows that when religious freedom protections are created by legislation, the Supreme Court upholds them almost 100 percent of the time. But when the First Amendment is the only basis, religious freedom wins only 50 percent of the time.

In short, in addition to short-term executive orders and the Constitution itself, legislation adds a long-term, comprehensive, certain, and specific way to secure religious freedom protections for hiring, funding, accreditation, and more for Christian higher education and many other religious organizations and interests.

This spring the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a bill that codifies sweeping LGBT civil rights at the expense of religious freedom. As written, the Equality Act would be devastating for Christian higher education, as it would threaten every Christian college and university’s ability to deliver on its missional promise. The Equality Act would also impact churches, hospitals, relief agencies, and businesses large and small.

We are working with a broad coalition of religious organizations and LGBT organizations who believe it is essential that any protections for LGBT persons be paired with the essential religious freedoms that maximize freedom for all. The way forward is proposed legislation called Fairness for All, which allows the religious and LGBT communities to resolve conflicts in a comprehensive, balanced, and enduring way. This approach represents two groups who have been historically at odds coming together to acknowledge deep differences but also a common desire to lead proactively to solve real problems for the most Americans. And, most importantly, Fairness for All protects our convictions as Christians and recognizes the needs of our LGBT neighbors.

Those committed to civic pluralism in the United States should seriously consider getting behind Fairness for All.