Le Roy joins discussion of discrimination and religious freedom


Photo courtesy calvin.edu

In June, Calvin College President Michael Le Roy and 138 other religious leaders signed a formal letter to President Obama requesting a religious exemption to an executive order.

The executive order, which Obama approved on July 21, amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections for individuals discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Although the order did not include the requested religious exemption,  Le Roy believes the administration was open to input from the religious community.

“I appreciate the effort the administration made to consider the perspective of religious groups on this matter and would hope that the administration considers the importance of religious freedom as a constitutional right,” Le Roy said.

The letter focused on religious freedom as the basis for its request. “We have a variety of views on the merits of such an executive order,” read the open letter to Obama. “However, we are united in asking that any such executive order be written in a way that protects the religious freedom of faith-based service providers.”

Le Roy explained: “The main thrust of the message was respect for religious groups and religious freedom.”

While united in this effort, signatories included representatives from colleges, development organizations, seminaries, and service providers across the country. The signatories included Calvin president emeritus Gaylen Byker, philosophy professor James K.A. Smith and Trustee for the Center of Public Justice Nicholas Wolterstorff.

“This particular letter included a broad network of religious leaders and organizations. The group included a diverse range of perspectives,” said Le Roy.

As explicitly stated in the letter, signatories spoke on this topic as individuals, not representatives of their respective organizations.

“Our requests are grounded in the historical context of strong federal legal protections for religious organizations’ hiring practices,” read the letter.

The executive order upheld allowances made in a 2002 executive order signed by President Bush for religious organizations to make hiring and firing decisions based on religious beliefs. However, the letter requested additional language to clarify the “Administration’s intent to protect religious freedom.”

Le Roy has previously addressed the incorporation of LGBT individuals into religious institutions. In a May interview with “Christianity Today,” (CT) he listed homosexuality as one of the most significant theological issues facing Calvin.

“Homosexuality is a very real issue for campuses,”  said Le Roy in the CT interview. “We have gay and lesbian students here. I have met with them. I have talked with them. They are Christians and they are trying to figure out, ‘What does this mean? How do I live?’”

The Christian Reformed Church of North America’s stance on marriage has brought this issue to a head.

“The Scripture that I need to be obedient to leads me to the conclusion that marriage is a relationship between man and woman, and sexuality is to be used in that context,” explained Le Roy to CT. “I say that in the spirit of humility.”

Le Roy also recognizes this is an area surrounded by much debate.

“Anybody who speaks in platitudes or thinks it’s simple to be a faithful and wise Christian in these issues is overlooking something,” said Le Roy. “I don’t think there are very many people who report on these issues in ways that aren’t clichés and stereotypes.”

“The politicization scares me the most about this issue,” Le Roy continued. “It can throw a whole college off-track and hurt a bunch of students. What would be so hard would be if Christian colleges become battlegrounds of the culture wars.”

Calvin College, President Le Roy and the larger Christian community continue to grapple with the issues of discrimination and religious freedom:

“We’re going to continue to struggle with this issue.”

A copy of the letter sent to President Obama can be found here.

Correction: The original article was revised to clarify that President Michael Le Roy’s quote “The Scripture that I need to be obedient to leads me to the conclusion that marriage is a relationship between man and woman, and sexuality is to be used in that context. I say that in the spirit of humility” originated from an interview with Christianity Today.