Sensationalizing a UC Davis non-story

Here’s a good opportunity for some media criticism. posted an article yesterday with the headline, “California University Defines Christians as Oppressors.” The first two paragraphs are enough to reveal what’s wrong with it:

“More than two dozen Christian students at the University of California at Davis have filed a formal complaint over a university policy that defines religious discrimination as Christians oppressing non-Christians.

The definition is listed in a document called, “The Principles of Community.” It defines “Religious/Spiritual Discrimination” as “The loss of power and privilege to those who do not practice the dominant culture’s religion. In the United States, this is institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian.”

First of all, the Principles of Community are not university policy. All university policy is listed in the UC Davis Policies and Procedures Manual. If reporter Todd Starnes had checked, he would have seen that the Principles of Community are not part of this manual.

After quoting an anonymous student who says “To have a non-discrimination policy that excludes the Christian faith is a cause for action,” Starnes fails to inform the reader that the university’s actual nondiscrimination policy, which can be found in dozens of places on the university website, does not exclude the Christian faith. It doesn’t even have the word Christian in it.

The Principles of Community are merely an expression of some lofty values university leaders think we should all uphold. Most of us have never even read them. Of all people, Alliance Defense Fund lawyer David French puts it best:

In the academic world, “civility statements,” or statements of values, are often the politically correct version of kumbaya, a secular shout-out to kindness, niceness, and all-around tolerance.  Designed as statements of diversity orthodoxy, they are utterly vacuous and often harmless.  Written over the course of years in endless committee meetings, they’re dense, overwrought—and utterly ignored.

Furthermore, the definition of religious discrimination doesn’t even come from the Principles of Community. The Principles of Community are right here. Not a word about religious discrimination.

The definition in question comes from a glossary that the Principles of Community website linked to. UC Davis has since scrubbed the glossary from its website, but you can still view it thanks to the wonders of Google’s internet cache.

Sure enough, that definition of religious discrimination is there, but check out the note at the top of the page: “This glossary is not an exhaustive list or definitive collection of definitions. Rather, it draws from academic sources used by other universities as a starting point to understand terms related to community, diversity and identity.”

So, in ten minutes of research I discovered a few facts that Todd Starnes somehow missed:

  • The Principles of Community are not UC Davis policy.
  • The glossary from which this definition came is not even a part of the Principles of Community, it just happened to be linked to on the same website
  • Whoever wrote the glossary itself said explicitly at the top of the page that the definitions are not definitive; they are simply meant to provoke further thought and inquiry.
  • UCD’s actual nondiscrimination policy very clearly protects against ALL religious discrimination.

So much for the “no-spin zone.”

Update (02/17/10): It appears that Starnes got an interview with UC Davis diversity czar (ahem, Associate Executive Vice Chancellor) Rahim Reed, who basically told him everything that I said in this post. My point still stands, however, that Starnes could have gotten all this information without talking to Reed.  Also, the article has still not been updated to reflect the new information.