A Modern Sodom and Gomorrah?

Plenty of college students hate having to live in the dormitories. But four Yale students hate dorm life so much they’re making a federal case out of it: They’re suing Yale University to avoid living in campus housing. The students believe that living in Yale’s co-ed dorms would be hazardous to their faith. No, these students aren’t fundamentalist Christians. They’re Orthodox Jews—and they compare Yale’s co-ed dorms to Sodom and Gomorrah. As one of the four, Elisha Hack, wrote in the New York Times, "During an orientation tour, I literally saw the handwriting on the wall. A sign titled ‘Safe Sex’ told me where to pick up condoms. Another sign touted 100 ways to make love without having sex, like ‘take a steamy shower together.’" The campus newspaper warned freshmen that a normal part of dorm life is being kicked out of their own rooms when a roommate wants to engage in sex. "Maybe," Hack writes sarcastically, "this is what Dean Richard Broadhead meant when he said that ‘Yale’s residential colleges carry… a moral meaning." The only moral meaning students seem to pick up, Hack says, is that anything goes. Hack and the three other Orthodox Jewish students say that even on "men only" floors, women are in evidence 24 hours a day, sharing bedrooms and bathrooms with the men. These aspects of dorm life conflict with Orthodox Judaism’s teachings about modesty and sexual abstinence before marriage. Three weeks ago the four Jewish students sued Yale, arguing that its policy violates their constitutional rights. Yale argues that living in the residence halls is "a crucial part of the Yale education"—and despite the school’s commitment to "tolerance," notwithstanding, certain rules must apply to all students. At the heart of religious freedom cases like this are conflicting views of human nature. So writes Kevin Hasson, the head of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Hasson says that two views of human nature are at work in contemporary America. The first view says that God created us and that we naturally thirst after knowledge of God—that we function better if we’re given the freedom to pursue the search for God and live by what we believe. The second view is naturalistic: It says that humans emerged from the slime and that religion is merely an illusion. Therefore, the best thing society can do for people is to free them from their religious illusions. If you hold the first view, you would argue that it’s important for society to protect people’s freedom to live by their religious beliefs. But if you hold the second view, you would conclude that the most important thing society can do is to protect people’s freedom from the harmful claims of religion. This is the worldview conflict at the heart of many of the battles over religious liberty in America. By forcing Orthodox Jews to live in co-ed dorms, Yale is revealing its commitment to the naturalistic view of human nature. In a conflict between religious and nonreligious moral standards, it’s the religious standards that must accommodate. So I say three cheers for these faithful Yale students. You and I ought to pray that these courageous young scholars will win the dormitory war. The outcome will say a lot about how much our society really values religious freedom.


Chuck Colson


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