Affirmative Action, Religious Liberty, and The Freedom to Discriminate

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Canopy Forum


Debates over affirmative action in higher education have raged for years. Supporters of the programs argue that they promote inclusion, while opponents believe that they are nothing more than reverse discrimination. A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has banned the use of racial preferences in admissions and made clear that the prohibition applies to both public and private colleges and universities. At the same time, the Court has been strengthening the autonomy of sectarian institutions to act on sincerely held religious beliefs. These two lines of precedent raise the possibility that religiously affiliated colleges and universities might be empowered to continue to use race in admissions if diversity advances a faith-based mission. Unfortunately, that interpretation could open the door to other forms of discrimination, for instance, against members of the LGBTQ community, even as federal funds flow to the schools. The prospect of such state-sponsored discrimination should give pause to anyone who values public norms of equality.


Center for the Study of Law and Religion