International universities bring together students of diverse traditions. These traditions, formed by a comprehensive web of philosophical and theological beliefs, provide one’s life with a fundamental ethical and moral direction, guiding action. In any environment where diverse traditions meet, there will be opportunity for respectful and enriching dialogue over these fundamental ethical and moral directions.
It is enriching because each tradition is receptive to considering the position of another, and it is respectful because each tradition acknowledges that divergent, pluralistic views persist on a given subject.
Student organisations will enact ethical and moral decisions consonant with what the majority of its members wish. Nevertheless, given the fact of pluralism, student organisations might occasionally fund or facilitate actions that some traditions find violates their fundamental ethical and moral directions. In these cases, a wanton enforcement of majority preferences has the result of forcing minorities of these traditions to fund or facilitate actions they find morally objectionable or questionable. A single decision of this sort can overthrow and shatter the moral direction to which someone is committed, assaulting his or her sense of integrity.
In the context of student organizations, the importance of protecting liberty of conscience arises from recognising the importance of respecting the traditions by which persons decide to orient their lives. No one should feel as if, by the fact of their participation in student life, the meaning and integrity of their actions must be violated.
Student organisations that coerce individuals to fund or facilitate actions that they find morally objectionable are violating the liberty of individuals to pursue meaningful and fulfilling lives according to their chosen traditions.
In this case, the proper response, a response that is respectful of the importance a tradition may have in someone’s life, is accommodation or exemption. It is relatively simple to develop opt-out policies for controversial distributions of funding that are respectful of the different traditions found in students.
Liberty of conscience affirms the dignity due to every human person and provides an inclusive, respectful environment in which students of diverse traditions can happily share the same space and resources, persist in an enriching and respectful dialogue, and flourish in the ethical and moral life they choose to lead.