Valparaiso University is constituted by people from different backgrounds, belief systems, and cultures joined together in the common pursuit of truth. As the University’s president, I am conscious of the importance of cultivating an environment in which all are free to engage in open dialogue and expression while treating one another with dignity and respect. These values run deeply throughout our community of students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
During the past week, many of these members have expressed concerns about the impact Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) may have on the state of Indiana and on this University. In particular, concerns have been raised about the University’s position on non-discrimination. While this University does not routinely issue statements concerning legislative actions, when the University’s position on non-discrimination is called into question, as Valpo’s president, I am compelled to respond.
Valparaiso University stands with numerous Indiana organizations, businesses, and communities of learning in its longstanding commitment to renounce discrimination. Regardless of personal opinions about the RFRA, we must engage in open and respectful dialogue among people who may hold fundamentally opposing and irreconcilable beliefs. We must find a way to live and work alongside one another in community. We must love one another. As Paul writes in Galatians 5, “For the whole law is summed in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
Valparaiso University was one of the nation’s first coeducational institutions, in a time when women faced educational discrimination. Valpo welcomed African-Americans and participated actively in the civil rights movement. Valpo commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day when Indiana’s legislature would not recognize this holiday. Valparaiso University’s Board-approved non-discrimination statement welcomes all people regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. As an independent Lutheran University, we will continue to welcome people of all faiths, cultures, and walks of life to join us in this community of dialogue across difference under our distinctive Lutheran model of education. And we will continue this commitment even when our elected leaders make decisions, like the RFRA, that operate in contradiction to our values. We will seek to model for our state and nation what it can be like to live in a community of love and mutual respect.
I call upon our elected leaders and our governor not only to amend this legislation, but also to use this opportunity to advocate for the values held by all those who strive to make Indiana a welcoming and inclusive state.