The American Philosophical Association (APA), which I belong to, has two policies that seem to be in conflict. The first is an anti-discrimination rule. The second is that the APA accepts job posts in its Jobs for Philosophers from Christian colleges. What creates the conflict is that some of these schools require employees to promise to avoid certain un-Christian activities. What has recently stirred things up is that engaging in homosexual activities is often seen as an un-Christian activity.
At this time, the APA’s official view is that religious schools have a right to seek employees whose religious affiliations match their own. While this seems reasonable, some folks are taking issue with the fact that this seems to commit the APA to accepting intolerance and this goes against the APA’s stance on discrimination (being against it).
One approach being taken by Christian thinkers is that the schools do not, in fact, discriminate against people based on sexual orientation. A person who, for example, signs a promise that she will not engage in un-Christian activities is not promising that she is a heterosexual. Rather, she is promising not to engage in homosexual behavior. Hence, such a school does not discriminate against homosexuals.
While this sort of distinction is the sort of thing that philosophers usually delight in, it is seen by some as being some sort of clever trick to justify discrimination. This charge does have some plausibility. After all, suppose that a school said that they do not discriminate against whites because they will hire whites who promise not to engage in white behavior. This would certainly seem to be discrimination. As such, it is hardly surprising that some people see such an approach as discrimination and even as a sign of hostility towards gays.
While it is true that some Christian institutions are clearly hostile to and quite willing to discriminate against gays, to simply assume that the concern of some Christians about homosexuality arises solely from fear, hatred or unthinking bigotry is a mistake. Whether homosexuality is morally wrong or not is a fit subject of moral debate. My own view is that it is not wrong. But, I recognize that those who disagree with me can have legitimate arguments that must be assessed and engaged rather than simply dismissed as mere prejudice. Further, if we are expected to respect someone’s sexual orientation, then it seems reasonable to extend the same respect to a person’s religious views.
Of course, one obvious reply to this is that such religious views should not be respected because they are intolerant and we should not tolerate intolerance. This is a reasonable concern, but does raise the obvious question about what we should tolerate and not tolerate. All good people agree that we should not tolerate what is immoral. But, people differ about what is immoral. For example, not tolerating those who do not tolerate homosexuality might be seen as as the right thing to do. So might not tolerating homosexuality.
In almost any moral debate, it is important to be able to consider things from the standpoints of the various sides. After all, to look at an issue only through one viewpoint is a way to fall into the trap of bias and prejudice. In this case, it is important and correct to consider not just the gay rights perspective, but also other perspectives-such as the perspective of Christians who regard homosexuality as immoral. Those Christians who have carefully and thoughtfully considered the matter are doing the best we can expect from anyone: they are acting in accord with their considered moral principles. The views of such people are thus worthy of a degree of respect, even from those who disagree with them. Naturally, those whose views are based on unthinking prejudice have done nothing to earn such respect. But, it is important to distinguish between those two sorts of people.
So, then, what should the APA do? On once hand, by allowing such Christian schools to post jobs in Jobs for Philosophers they are accepting discrimination-in this case, discrimination based on sexual orientation (or behavior). However, by forbidding such schools from advertising, they are discriminating-in this case, on the basis of religious views. Both approaches would be discriminatory and hence both would seem unacceptable.
One easy way out would be to drop the anti-discrimination policy and simply accept advertising from any accredited school. But, philosophy isn’t supposed to be easy, is it?