FAIRFAX, Va.—A top admissions officer at George Mason University (GMU) condemns faithful Christians and conservatives as “worthless trash,” a sentiment that could alarm thousands of high school students seeking admission to the university, and raises serious First Amendment problems if it impacts any admission decisions.
Andrew Bunting is senior assistant director of admissions at GMU, and also a member of the public university’s Staff Senate. On his Facebook page, Bunting posted:
“NOM, a recognized HATE GROUP by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is not representative of the key pillars of American society. They seek to limit life. Limit liberty. Limit Freedom. Limit the pursuit of happiness for million of American [sic]. If you agree with them then that is your opinion. Just know that to the rest of us, you are a piece of worthless trash.”
This article Bunting referenced was from the blog of NOM: the National Organization for Marriage. NOM’s president is a devout Roman Catholic, and the organization is staffed by individuals who share a deeply religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.
Bunting is citing material from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an ultra-left anti-Christian organization that has labeled dozens of conservative organizations as “hate groups,” including faith-based groups like the Family Research Council (FRC), immigration groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and various Tea Party groups.
SPLC explicitly equates such conservative organizations with the racist Ku Klux Klan (KKK). SPLC also posts maps to their offices, one of which was used by Floyd Lee Corkins in 2012 to enter FRC’s office in Washington, D.C., with a firearm and more than 50 rounds of ammunition. Corkins shot the office manager, and planned to assassinate everyone in the building. He was disarmed by the wounded manager, and later was convicted of domestic terrorism. Corkins is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence. SPLC never apologized, and continues to post maps with directions to the offices of conservative organizations it calls hate groups.
Decades ago SPLC was a leading organization on identifying and combating racism. But in recent years its views are so extreme that even the Obama administration stopped using their material for military and anti-terrorism training.
GMU is a state university, making it part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. As such, it is bound by the First Amendment’s guarantees that the government will not oppose student applicants for exercising their rights to free speech and religious liberty. Those rights apply with full force to the university through the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
The First Amendment forbids viewpoint discrimination, which is when, for any particular issue, the government cannot take sides in favor of one viewpoint over another. For example, on the topic of abortion, the government cannot say it will allow pro-abortion statements but frown upon pro-life statements.
The Supreme Court has held that the government can decide which views it wants to promote and adopt. But when it comes to private citizens expressing their personal views on politics or religion, the government cannot penalize citizens with whom someone representing the government disagrees.
More than that, employers are legally liable for the actions taken by their employees when those employees are carrying out their job duties within the context of their employment.
Taken together, in this situation, that means if Bunting plays a role in denying admission into GMU’s freshman class a high-school senior because that student expresses Evangelical or Catholic beliefs on marriage or sexuality—or a secular conservative who expresses a conservative political viewpoint on any public issue or applaudes Republican victories on Election Day—then GMU would be violating the First Amendment, and could be sued by that applicant for illegal discrimination.
Conservative and religious groups have noted increasing bias against their beliefs at colleges and universities in recent years.