Media Ignores Study Revealing Anti-Evangelical Bias

An astonishing 53 percent of American college faculty members hold unfavorable views of evangelical Christians, says a survey released by a Jewish organization – and the media have almost completely ignored the story.

Washington Post religion writer Alan Cooperman reported the story on May 5. The Post is the only major media outlet to report the results of this survey.  

Gary A. Tobin, director of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, told the Post, “When we ask questions like this, we're asking the respondent to say how they feel about an entire group of people, and whatever image they have of that entire group comes through….There is no question this is revealing bias and prejudice.” 

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors and an English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, suggested an alternate interpretation to Cooperman.  Nelson said the survey reveals “a political and cultural resistance, not a form of religious bias.” 

According to Nelson, this “resistance” results from “the particular kind of Republican Party activism that some evangelicals have engaged in over the years, as well as what faculty perceive as the opposition to scientific objectivity among some evangelicals.”

Tobin rejected this argument, telling Cooperman “If a majority of faculty said they did not feel warmly about Muslims or Jews or Latinos or African Americans, there would be an outcry.  No one would attempt to justify or explain those feelings.  No one would say, 'The reason they feel this way is because they don't like the politics of blacks or the politics of Jews.' That would be unthinkable.” 

Cooperman wrote that Tobin “said the levels of disapproval are high enough to raise questions about how evangelical Christians are treated.” In his article, Cooperman applied the survey to an ongoing instance of faculty bias against an evangelical Christian student.

According to the Post, in 2005 a social work instructor at Missouri State University required his students to write letters to the state legislature expressing support for adoptions by same-sex couples.  Emily Brooker, then a junior at Missouri State, felt the assignment violated her Christian beliefs and refused to sign the letter.  As a result, “she was hauled before a faculty panel on a charge of discriminating against gays.”

Brooker sued the university, and the case led to an uproar in Missouri.  The Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill requiring the state's public colleges to “report regularly on how they protect students from 'viewpoint discrimination.'” 

An independent investigation of Missouri State's School of Social Work, conducted by the deans of social work from Indiana University and the University of Tennessee, reported that students and faculty “'stated a fear of voicing differing opinions' particularly about spiritual matters.” They also “found such a 'toxic' climate of intellectual 'bullying' that they suggested shutting down the social work school and restarting it with a new faculty.”

The charge was ultimately removed from Brooker's record, and the university reportedly settled her lawsuit by paying for her graduate education.

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.