When Bryan Jenkins applied to study radiation therapy at Baltimore Community College, he never thought it would matter to anyone what his religion was. He presented a 3.2 GPA, he passed the entrance exam, and then he was interviewed. During the admissions interview, the interviewer asked, “What is most important to you.” This is not a question about academics. This question asks for the source of a person’s values. Bryan Jenkins responded with an honest answer: “My God.”
Any Christian who believes that he is called to live according to his faith in every part of his life might well have answered the same way. To be sure, the questioner did not ask what Bryan’s religion was, and it is probably considered inappropriate to ask that precise question, given that the school would not want to be accused of religious discrimination. It is not possible to guess what the interviewer thought he (or she) would learn by asking this question, but Bryan’s answer makes complete sense to people who determine their values and their standards from within their relationship with God. If their values grow out of the teachings of their faith, then God is more important than anything else. Bryan answered in accord with his personal standards.
It is, therefore, quite shocking to hear that the school chose not to admit Bryan Jenkins to a radiation therapy program because, in their view, his chosen field of radiation therapy “is not the place for religion.” Students of secularism will recognize immediately that this statement expresses the familiar secular concept that religion belongs inside designated worship spaces and nowhere else.
The people who brought the USA to birth would be astonished to discover that there is some place in a human life where a person’s religion and the values it teaches should not be permitted to apply. Those who wrote the Declaration of Independence, fought a bloody war against oppressive government, and wrote the Constitution believed that the nation they created required people of character, and they believed that character was rooted in religious faith. The very idea that religion belongs in a box excluded from the public discourse and the decisions that shape medical treatment or any other human endeavor would be outrageous to them.
The American Center for Law and Justice has taken the case of Bryan Jenkins and has filed suit against the college. This lawsuit is a terrible intrusion into the life and future of Bryan Jenkins, who simply wants to help patients get better if they need radiation therapy. His faith in God is certainly no reason to refuse to admit him. Every person’s values come from somewhere. Bryan Jenkins says that his values grow out of his relationship with God. How does that relationship and that source of values disqualify him as a therapist for patients who need radiation? Most people would be happy to discover that their medical treatment team included someone with values based on something greater than themselves. But here is the real truth: it is rare for a patient ever to know the origin of the values of people who treat him (or her) medically. A patient with a major problem might encounter more than 200 people in the course of a hospital stay that included major surgery, and the likelihood that this person would have the slightest clue about the religion of even one of those individuals is very small.
It is not clear why the college asks the question, “What do you value most?” but if their intent is to discover and reject religious faith, they need to stop doing so. This college is funded by public tax money. The public at large thinks that it is a sign of character for someone to root his values in religious faith. If they discover that a therapist in a treatment team is a person who lives by the principles of his faith, they will mostly applaud that fact and be grateful to have such a person in their lives.
Yet it needs to be reiterated that the source of Bryan’s values is not a legitimate reason to disqualify Bryan from studying any subject at the college whatsoever. The source of Bryan’s values is not a legitimate reason to disqualify Bryan from working as a radiation therapist. Any employer who tried to filter out Christians or Muslims or Hindus or any other religion would be called to account for the bona fide occupational qualification that made it unacceptable for a Christian to work in this occupation. The college is pre-empting a decision that they have no right or justification for pre-empting.
Christians everywhere need to applaud Bryan Jenkins. He did what every Christian intends to do: he spoke honestly about his faith. Every Christian means to do that when asked about faith or values or moral foundations. Every American needs to deplore and reject the behavior at this college and any others where admissions staff attempt to filter out any religion of any sort. The truth is that qualification for admission to any public educational institution may not be based on any religious test, and the interpretation of the question asked of Bryan Jenkins makes it a religious test. The college did not say that values based on the Christian religion conflict in any way with competence as a radiation therapist. The college only suggested that patients might disagree with Bryan’s religion. They assumed things they cannot possibly know about attitudes that have no relevance to Bryan’s values.
Pray for Bryan Jenkins and for the American Center for Law and Justice. This is not the American way. In the USA, people are free to live according to the tenets of their faith, and they are free to live according to the values taught by their faith, and they are free to work in occupations for which they qualify regardless of their faith. This wrong must be righted.