I did not attend Brigham Young University, and I’d be shocked if either of my teenage daughters decided to go there. But Brandon Davies did decide to attend BYU, where every student signs an annual pledge to refrain from premarital sex. And, as every sports fan now knows, Davies broke it.
That’s why the BYU basketball team – ranked third in the nation at the time – suspended Davies, its top rebounder. The team then promptly lost to unranked New Mexico. Many hoops junkies now predict that it will make a quick exit from the NCAA tournament, which starts next week.
I hope not. I have a warm spot in my heart for BYU, just as many conservatives do. But I have my own liberal reasons.
To people on the right, of course, it’s about morality. Americans have lost their ethical compass, the argument goes, especially on matters of sex. By suspending Brandon Davies, BYU is helping to revive long-lost values that made this nation great.
Others lament a college sports scene dominated by sleaze and double standards. Whereas other universities coddle miscreant athletes, BYU makes every player follow the same rules. And surely there’s something admirable about that.
But I like BYU’s decision to suspend Davies for another reason: diversity.
Remember diversity? My fellow liberals love diversity. We want diversity in our neighborhoods, diversity in our workplaces, diversity in our classrooms.
By diversity, we usually mean representation of different races and ethnicities, and sometimes of different genders and sexual orientations. But that leaves out religion, which never really made it into the multicultural pantheon.
And that’s too bad, because religion is intimately linked to all the other identities. A Catholic Hispanic woman isn’t Hispanic on Monday, female on Tuesday, and Catholic on Wednesday. She is all those things all the time. So if we care about diversity, we should defend and develop all three.
But in America, which separates church and state, the government can’t promote religion in the same way it celebrates different races and genders. Our public schools just finished Black History Month (February), and now they’re marking Women’s History Month (March). But they won’t – and shouldn’t – commemorate Catholic History Month in April, or Jewish History Month in May.
That’s where churches, synagogues, and religious schools come in. Without these institutions, religious identity would decline. So anyone who cares about diversity should support their efforts to defend it.
That’s why I applaud Catholic schools such as Georgetown and Boston College for hanging crucifixes in their classrooms. I realize that non-Catholics attend and teach at these institutions, and they might resent such displays. But religious icons and rituals maintain the rich character of these schools – their diversity, if you will – and we would all be poorer if they lost it.
Likewise, I like the idea of Orthodox Jewish schools maintaining strict dress codes, as well as rules against male-female fraternization. Although I’m Jewish, I’m not Orthodox, and I wouldn’t choose to patronize such institutions. But I’m glad they exist, and changing their conservative ways would also diminish diversity.
Then there are the Mormon schools such as Brigham Young, where students pledge to abstain from alcohol and coffee, as well as from premarital sex. Odd? To me, yes. Old-fashioned? Ditto.
And that’s precisely why I support them. You don’t have to agree with all the BYU rules; I certainly don’t. But their presence adds a unique stroke to the broad American canvas. For our society as a whole, that’s a very good thing. It reminds us about the many ways of being American, and it challenges us to reach across these differences to discover what we all have in common.
Is it good for Brandon Davies, too? I really don’t know. But here’s what I do know: By holding Davies to account, Brigham Young University struck a blow for our nation’s diversity. That’s why I’m rooting for the BYU Cougars in the NCAA tournament. Vive la différence. And go Cougars.
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press). He can be reached at [email protected].
Continue reading here: Rooting for BYU’s sex ban – Philadelphia Inquirer