Tin-eared Martin Cothran

Cothran, an analyst for one of those right-wing religious think tanks, the Family Patriarchy Foundation, has written an op-ed rebuking the University of Kentucky for discrimination against Christians. It is breathtakingly ridiculous. He claims that the reason Gaskell was not hired was religious oppression, overt discrimination against him for the fact of being a Christian. A university in America would have virtually no faculty or staff if they had an unspoken policy of discrimination against the Christian majority in this country; there were believers on that committee, I’m sure, just as there are believers on every committee I’ve ever worked with at my universities, and the atheists are usually the minority. So to claim that this committee thought that the idea of a candidate going to church was grounds for exclusion is absurd.

Gaskell’s employment was questioned, not because he is a Christian, but because he is an evangelical Christian who used his authority as an astronomer to mislead the public about biology. That was a question of responsibility and competence, well within the domain of inquiry by a hiring committee. It was not about his private, personal religious practices, but how he would engage the public.

Cothran, though, has to carry his argument into the realm of offensive stupidity.

One of its arguments used to defend UK’s actions was that Gaskell would have public outreach responsibilities and that his religious views would embarrass the university.

Let’s apply this to a similar discrimination case against, say, an African-American, a group protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Let’s say the University of Kentucky was looking for an agriculture extension officer for a part of the state with a racist history. The job obviously involved public outreach.

And let’s say an African-American applied for the job and was clearly the most qualified applicant.

But there were faculty and staff who indicated in e-mails they didn’t think highly of blacks and who engaged in a concerted effort to torpedo his candidacy for the job, and one of the reasons was that they felt his race would impair his ability to do outreach in this part of the state.

I think we all know what would happen, and it would have little to do with a potential hire embarrassing the University of Kentucky. It would have a whole lot to do with the university embarrassing itself.

This isn’t diversity. It isn’t equal treatment. It isn’t tolerance. UK got off the hook by paying a relatively small settlement in the case.

Right. Christians. Just like the oppressed African-American minority, with their long history of suffering and repression, and their current underprivileged state in which they are excluded from positions of leadership by bigotry. That whole argument reveals much about Martin Cothran and his coddled Christian privilege, and not much about the University of Kentucky.

In his hypothetical example, imagine that this well-qualified applicant was great at helping farmers with the job of raising crops (he’s well qualified!), but would also go off and lecture them about how Kentucky was first settled by Egyptians who developed the system of agriculture, Kentucky bluegrass, and thoroughbred racehorses, which are all descended from purely African stock. I think the agriculture department would be justified in questioning his suitability for employment, not because of his race, but because he is promoting false ideas justified by a very narrow and ignorant myth about African contributions to history.

That’s Gaskell. He wasn’t turned away because he was a Christian, but because he actively uses Christianity as an excuse to peddle falsehoods and doubts. And the objection wasn’t to the “Christian” part, but to the “false doubts” part.