NCU Has Rights Too !
Christianity is not dynamic, it remains static. As society’s understanding of rights and freedoms evolve, Christianity must necessarily remain steadfast. Anything else would disturb the supposed infallibility of the religion’s tenets. It is against this backdrop that I approach the controversy currently surrounding the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) in Central Jamaica. The University stands accused of suspending a female student for “depicting homosexuality in a (cheerleading) routine”. This depiction amounted to dressing like a man and proposing to another female student, all in the name of fun. The decision of the University has come under fire from human rights advocates who charge that the suspension is in violation of the student’s most basic rights as a citizen, with many condemning the draconian and theocratic approach of the tertiary institution. While I agree that the action is draconian and startling, I am persuaded to stand with NCU in this matter. It is my considered opinion that the University has the right to determine, as a matter of conscience, what behaviours and attitudes it deems acceptable under the existing “ethos” of the campus.
It is no secret that the Seventh Day Adventist Church is one of the most intrusive christian denominations which exists. The precepts demand strict observances which often encroach on individual liberties, by regulating diet, dress and other aspects of everyday life. Being led by Seventh Day Adventists, one would reasonably expect the same aggressive brand of conservatism from the institution. Why are we alarmed that the school decided to maintain its principles? The argument which says that NCU should be mindful of the fact that not everyone who attends is christian, and therefore tolerate secularism, is flawed. The reality is no one forces non Christians to attend, that is entirely a matter of choice. Why then do we believe we have a right to exist in a christian space, and act in a manner which is contrary to the religion’s belief system? Such a notion can only come from a place of unbridled arrogance. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I give an example, I have dislike tofu and the like, but on the many occasions I have been invited to the Mandeville campus, I have been fed tofu. Did I complain? No. Why? Because I chose to accept the invitation. I knew the terms of my acceptance, it was never forced on me. Students are not forced to attend either. Therefore, it is not enlightened, as has been suggested, to demand that people and institutions discard their beliefs simply because it is not main stream, hip or current. There is a troubling precedent emerging which says that without a wholesale acceptance of gay rights, gender rights or any other right which is deemed fundamental, an individual cannot be intelligent or above the level of the “common man”. It is terribly offensive. As hard as it is to believe, there are still many among us who hold some things sacred. That is their right, and we ought to respect it. By attacking NCU, we are endorsing the idea that any thinking outside of the mainstream is null and void. I am not prepared to accept that. I believe that is the first step in violating the right to a free conscience.
In our crusade for human rights, we seem to have ignored the fact that NCU is a private institution, with a right to determine its own standards and practices. A well placed source on the campus has informed me that the university is governed by what is referred to as an “ethos”, every student has heard of it, and every student is mindful not to upset it. Presumably, homosexual expression violates that ethos, surely the young lady knew this. She has a right, of course, to express herself through fashion, perhaps even through sexual orientation, but how do we weigh this right when opposed to NCU’s expressly defined moral principles? Should such a right be absolute, no matter where the young lady finds herself? I believe we can look to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Maurice Tomlinson, TVJ, CVM, PBCJ matter for an answer. As I understand it, the Court upheld the right of the television stations not to broadcast content which they deemed contrary to their moral conscience. If we accept that we are a society based on laws, then we ought to be persuaded by the Constitutional Court’s declaration in this matter. I believe the same circumstance is present in this matter. If broadcast stations can invoke religious protection in furtherance of private discrimination, why shouldn’t a religious institution be allowed to do the same? I believe that is the only way to insulate the Church and its precepts from the shifting priorities of society.
Finally, far too often the march towards an inclusive society fails to accept the reality that not every citizen or institution will be party to the shifting norms and values or the activist agenda. I think that’s part of the beauty of democracy, that there are competing ideas, and an ongoing conversation. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss NCU’s practices because they conflict with our modern sense of human rights and freedoms. If we are committed to upholding rights, we must commit to upholding even those rights which offend us.