University of Louisville president James Ramsey’s and Provost Shirley Willihnganz’ boycott of Chick-fil-A for its “offensive and unecessary” view on marriage hit a cultural nerve as tender as the famous chicken sandwiches sold on their campus. U of L is now reportedly considering ousting the fast food chain. To give context, the university served up a domestic partner benefits policy on its menu of moral relativism in 2006, public appetite for the measure notwithstanding. (It was only two years prior that three of four Kentuckians amended the Constitution to keep marriage between one man and one woman and outlawed domestic partnerships). This food fight is more than just being told to “eat your peas, they’re good for you.” It’s an issue of free speech and tolerance and whether the university has a moral center anymore. U of L claims to value diversity and the free exchange of ideas, but it is clear they only value certain diversity and some ideas. And non-conformists who don’t subscribe are likely to be left with egg on their face and shown the door. The fruits of such contrived outrage have been cultivated in an environment where the teaching of absolutes is considered wrong and intolerant. Guy Burnett, Professor of Government at Central Texas College asked: “How can we expect our citizens to be what Thucydides called the “fair judges of public matters” when our own education teaches them not to be a judge of anything? It becomes a democratic mess, one which begins to resemble the fertile soil of dictators and demagogues.”
Condemnation aimed at those who believe in moral absolutes jeopardizes the ability of diverse people—from university presidents like James Ramsey to conservative businessmen like Dan Cathy, to coexist. Ironically, the petition drive by U of L students to rid campus of Chick-fil-A, is as much staking out an absolutist position (those who believe God defines marriage are wrong) as it is grounded in intolerance (and they should not be allowed to do business on campus).
On what basis does the university disqualify those who believe that marriage is defined by God as between one man and one woman? Or for that matter, what moral high ground can the university claim when judging the Aurora, Colorado tragedy; or the sordid saga of betrayal and cover-up at Penn State? And how does it explain the self-sacrifice that prompted Matt McQuinn, Alex Teves, and Jon Blunk to die while shielding their girlfriends from a mass murderer in that dark theatre on July 20? A recent survey released by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, found that 19 percent of Americans do not claim any religious affiliation. So the intelligentsia cheers. And nonbelievers cite the aforementioned evils against the existence of God: “if God were all-powerful and loving, then he wouldn’t allow such evil to take place.” Yet critics forget that the story of Christianity—the tenets of which landed Chick fil-A in trouble, is the story of God’s son Jesus who practiced tolerance to the outcasts and bore the brunt of horrible evil when he was crucified at the hands of men some 2000 years ago.
Regardless of what the university is teaching these days, civic virtue and morality grounded in absolutes are as necessary to individual thriving as they are to sound education. This makes God, the author of moral absolutes, a necessary part of the conversation. Whether such ideas will be allowed on campus is the difference between a Dark Knight rising and a new morning in America. God help us to know the difference.
Richard Nelson is the Executive Director of the Commonwealth Policy Center. He resides in Trigg County where he serves as magistrate and lives with his wife and children on a farm.