Fear and loathing in the media

“Bad waves of paranoia, madness, fear and loathing — intolerable vibrations in the place. Get out. The weasels were closing in. I could smell the ugly brutes.” 

For some reason that line from the drug-addled mind of the late Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” reminds me of The New York Times and its attitude toward faith. Paranoid over the role of religion in society, it can be difficult to decide if the motivation of the Times is fear or loathing. 

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5 to 4 margin that Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, part of the University of California, could refuse official recognition to a Christian group. 

The Christian group committed the secular sin of wanting its members to abide by its essential moral principles, specifically abstaining from sex outside of marriage or in active homosexual relationships. 

On publicly funded university campuses, any type of student group gets funding — everything from environmental and political clubs to gay advocates and covens of witches.  

But Hastings College of Law decided to deny recognition, claiming the Christian group’s adherence to their own basic moral beliefs violated the school’s alleged nondiscrimination policy. The Christian group then filed suit, essentially stating that such an interpretation of the nondiscrimination policy effectively discriminated against their religious beliefs. 

Being a school of law, Hastings realized it was on touchy legal grounds. There’s that old First Amendment thing that allows freedom of religion and religious expression. Fearing that its nondiscrimination policy would be found as discriminatory against religious beliefs, they instead argued that the Christian group’s rules violated the school’s “all-comers” policy. 

That’s a policy that says all student groups must accept anybody who wants to join. A Jewish group has to take Muslim students; a Republican group can’t reject a Democrat; a witches’ coven can’t turn down a nun. And a Christian group can’t reject someone who re-fuses to live by its beliefs. 

The “all-comers” argument was an afterthought to win the case. The fact that it had nothing to do with the actual reason for rejecting the Christian group in the first place — its religious beliefs — was avoided.  

But it worked. Hastings won on the basis of the “all-comers” policy and the Supreme Court majority avoided the religious freedom issue. 

Which is where The New York Times comes in. 

The Times wrote that the Court should have used the case “to clearly state that government funds cannot be used to support discrimination.” As has been its long-held editorial position, The New York Times equates Christian moral teachings with “discrimination.” The Christian group should, in fact, have been legally refused funding because of its religious beliefs. 

In doing so, the Times once again argues that religious expression has no rights in the public arena.  

In the world of The New York Times, they get to define discrimination ­— what ideas they want suppressed, what beliefs they want silenced through the force of the state. 

It is only a small step in principle to argue that a Christian group on a college campus can be denied a computer, to claiming that any tax exemptions for religious congregations is state-funded discrimination. Or any expression of faith-based principles in the public arena is discrimination sponsored by the state. That’s how the Times will shut you up. 

Scary stuff. But that’s the kind of intolerable vibrations that show up when the motivations are fear. And loathing.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.