Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

In Praise of Diversity

Stephen V. Monsma


By Stephen V. Monsma

“Diversity” is taking its place alongside Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet as an all-American icon that no one questions.  One does not have to search long on university websites to find references to their commitment to diversity in their student bodies and faculties.  The website of UCLA states: “We believe that diversity is critical to maintaining excellence in all of our endeavors.”  San Diego State University has an entire tab labeled, “Diversity Starts Here.”  In the business world, there are consulting firms dedicated to helping firms increase the diversity of their work forces. 

What often goes unrecognized, though, is that diversity and freedom of belief and action are inescapably linked.  If we as a society are to encourage diversity and the resulting societal pluralism, we must allow ethnic, racial, regional, religious, and other groups in society the freedom to be who they wish to be, even when who they are, what they believe and what they do run counter to the desires or beliefs of others.  Diversity and pluralism mean we must learn to live with, tolerate and respect those whose beliefs, lifestyles and actions are different than our own.

Almost all Americans would agree with what I have thus far written, yet when it comes to religious diversity in practice, we sometimes do not accept and respect the differences on which a diverse, pluralistic society depends.

Earlier I mentioned San Diego State University and its website, which devotes an entire tab to diversity and how it is promoted on its campus.  Thus, it is strange that this same university has withdrawn official recognition from two student religious groups because they insisted upon religious standards of belief and behavior for their leaders.  These student groups no longer have the on-campus privileges all other student organizations enjoy.   But if a Jewish student club cannot insist its leaders be Jews who accept the basic tenets of their faith, what happens to the group’s distinctive Jewish identity?  The same is true for a Muslim or a Christian student group.  The necessary result is that a grey sameness—at least among student religious clubs—will replace the rich diversity a university such as San Diego State University claims for itself.

The hit TV show “Blue Bloods” likes to extol the Catholicism of the Reagan family it features, but society is less certain of the value of religious pluralism when the Catholic bishops object to an Obama Administration mandate requiring Catholic universities, hospitals and charities to provide contraceptive, abortifacient and sterilization coverage in employees’ health insurance coverage.  Then suddenly diversity is not good; all employers, even when it goes against their religious faith, must provide the same health insurance coverage.

Gay rights advocacy organizations claim the right to equal treatment, and they decry “discrimination” when same-sex couples are unable to adopt children from Catholic or evangelical Protestant adoption agencies.  After all, diversity means we as a society need to accept same-sex “families.”  But diversity does not, in their view, extend to faith-based adoption agencies that have serious religiously based problems with same-sex adoptions.  All adoption agencies—private and government, faith-based and secular—must act in the same manner.

Within the rule of law, a truly diverse society creates space for all of us and our organizations to define who we are and to act on the basis of those definitions.  A new and more complete understanding of religious freedom and its contribution to diversity is needed if the hundreds of thousands of faith-based organizations, which contribute much to the diversity of our society, are not to be squeezed into a look-alike, secular mold.

—Stephen V. Monsma is a Senior Research Fellow at the Henry Institute at Calvin College and Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Pepperdine University. He is the author of Pluralism and Freedom: Faith-Based Organizations in a Democratic Society (2012). 

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”