Dr. Scott Luley received his M.B.A. and his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. Luley helped establish Christian Leadership in 1980. Luley directs the Free Speech Project, works locally at Princeton and Rutgers Universities, and directs the East Region for CLM. He and his wife, Jan, have two sons.
RI: What is the first thing a faculty member should do when some aspect of their academic freedom is challenged?
Luley: When a situation arises, they need to act immediately. I suggest they call Christian Leadership right away. But even before a situation arises faculty and staff should be organized locally and be prepared to take action the same day a problem occurs. Once someone contacts us, we deal with the situation on an individual basis - we really try to customize it to fit their needs.
Initially, it helps if CLM is contacted immediately so we can try some low level alternatives before the situation heats up and limits our alternatives. For example, I often encourage Christian faculty or staff to write a "reasoned written response" to the problem, which frequently leads to a solution.
I also encourage Christians to request statements in writing and to respond in writing from the beginning. People often change their story as the situation progresses, and it helps to have a "paper trail" for documentation. This also calls the bluff of someone seeking to intimidate. Requesting a written definition of the complaints imposes a higher accountability to accuracy and reasonableness.
By contacting CLM first, faculty and staff take advantage of our experience with 12,000 Christian professors in our network. Other ministries deal with a wide variety of issues ranging from pro-life to home schooling issues. But CLM has concentrated on higher education since our inception and we have a lot to offer Christians in secular universities.
RI: Are there times when legal action is not the best recourse?
Luley: There are many situations in which a faculty member wouldn't need to press for a legal solution. Sometimes someone has a bone to pick with Christians, as in the Arnie Burron case [featured in the September 93 Real Issue]. In Arnie's case, a student went straight to the local newspaper with accusations of inappropriate religious in-class speech without talking to Arnie first. It was obvious that this student and her supporters were trying to win by intimidation.
In the case with Arnie, it wasn't a question of a legal issue; the student did misrepresent some things, but it wasn't something he could and should sue over. We needed to publicize that what the student did was wrong - or in "bad form."
We cannot afford to let a course of action like that go unchallenged in the marketplace of ideas. It's appropriate to respond publicly in the media in an attempt to win a media battle rather than a legal battle.
We can still deal with opposition in love and be ethical. However, we need to show the public in a gracious, but tenacious, way that our opposition is pursuing intimidation rather than truth.
RI: What are some steps to take if the media becomes involved in the opposition's favor?
Luley: The key to responding in the media is to act right away and to get local Christian support. The media is interested in current events - not "ancient" history. Most Christians forget this, and it makes even a good cause seem like "old news."
It always helps when Christian faculty are organized and prepared before any crisis. It's even better when local support from the Christian community is solicited. In Arnie Burron's situation, I recommended to our local CLM staff member, Jim Cook, that we solicit local support from Christians. When they wrote strong letters of support to the newspaper, the community was reminded that truth and grace are more powerful than intimidation. And Arnie came out as a hero rather than a preachy fundamentalist Christian.
RI: Several times you have mentioned the importance of acting "right away." Why is immediate action so important?
Luley: In Arnie's case, if he had waited even a week to act, I think it would have been a dead issue. It's that critical. I see people who are fired up; they're ready to move; they're ready to take action. But days later everyone has forgotten the key points and they often don't care. We always lose ground when we wait.
I've been contacted about a freedom issue which was six months old and the person expected me to do something. It's just impossible.
One reason a person needs to act immediately is it takes time to work through the chain of communication. One phone call to just one person normally will not resolve the issue and often legal advice is needed to examine the alternatives and implications. It all takes time.
RI: Why is it important to do anything about infringements upon academic freedoms?
Luley: First, if we're going to continue to present Christ on campus, we need to get beyond our desire for "personal peace" and realize that we may get a little uncomfortable as we face the intimidation of others. If we don't face that intimidation, it sets a very bad precedent for other Christians who follow us. From then on, for every Christian on that campus it will only get worse. I've seen it over and over.
The administrator from whom you back down will say, "I was right," and it encourages the opposition to take a tougher stand the next time. If the administrator really does have an "axe to grind" with Christians in general, it's going to get much worse.
I've had some people with perfect cases to win, and they just wouldn't move on it. I honestly think they hoped the problem would go away if they did nothing. I would never want to be a Christian at that school because you'd get creamed after that precedent.
The worst situation is to get halfway into defending your rights and then back down. I believe many Christians think it's more spiritual to back down than take a stand for truth.
RI: How can a Christian faculty be assured they are staying within their rights?
Luley: The best thing to do is to participate in a Christian Leadership Freedom Workshop. It is a discussion format videotape which examines the academic freedoms of Christian faculty and staff. It includes talks by The Rutherford Institute's John Whitehead, Chuck Colson, and Sam Erickson of the Christian Legal Society. I also think that reading Whitehead's book (The Rights of Religious Persons in Public Education) would also be a helpful resource.
My advice to any Christian in the university is not to worry about whether they will be challenged about their faith, but what to do when they are. Sooner or later, our convictions or message will be challenged in today's "politically correct" university climate. I am surprised by the number of Christians who feel they will not be challenged. In addition to being naive, it is impractical and unbiblical to believe that. Besides, these challenges threaten the freedoms we have constitutionally to share our message - the gospel - in universities across this nation.
RI: How should Christians conduct themselves while fighting for their rights?
Luley: I would prefer not use the term "fight." Rather, we need to articulately defend the truth, with grace. We need both attributes. And that ought to be our distinction as a Christian - we're truthful and gracious, but we'll stay in there and be as tenacious as we need to be.
The basis of our conviction to present truth on campus is the original purpose of the university itself. Christians in universities today cannot afford to sit back and let things happen. If we don't present truth, our message is meaningless. As a result, our message will be eliminated from relevant discussion because "politically correct" and "gay agenda" restrictions will be placed on us.
Personal peace is not the solution for Christians in the university, but many are pursuing that alternative purposefully, and Christianity is losing ground as a relevant topic in the marketplace of ideas.
RI: Why do you feel faculty members should appeal to Christian Leadership when faced with challenges to their academic freedoms?
Luley: The Free Speech project is almost 10 years old and our ministry has been on university campuses since 1951. We are specialists in ministry in secular higher education. That's why CLM exists. I have no other motivation, nor do any of our full-time staff around the country.
RI: What message would you leave with Christian faculty and staff?
Luley: Let us help you as a Christian do whatever it takes to help you stand for Christ where He has planted you - the secular university. I mean that in the broadest sense - not just on legal issues. Christian Leadership Ministries exists to serve you.
Contact the Free Speech Project at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to reach Dr. Scott Luley, his email address is: email@example.com.