JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – East Tennessee State University’s Student Government Association (SGA) has the right to pass a resolution condemning Milligan University for a personnel decision and calling on ETSU to cut some ties with Milligan — but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, one SGA senator said.
Mason Mosier, the organization’s speaker pro-tem, also said he hopes ETSU’s administration will refrain from taking any of the actions the measure calls for.
“I’m a big believer in religious liberty and I’m a big believer that Milligan has a right to decide what kind of faculty that they desire,” Mosier told News Channel 11 Friday. “I think that we need to be supportive of other institutions and their hiring practices.”
The Supreme Court has held “religious exception” allows private religious institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation where other institutions legally cannot.
Milligan’s faculty handbook includes as a cause for termination “immoral behavior” including “any sexual contact outside of a marriage relationship of a man and a woman.”
Mosier and fellow Washington County Young Republicans released a statement opposing the ETSU SGA measure Wednesday — a day after the SGA’s Academic Affairs Committee voted 4-1 to move resolution SSR-20-006 to the full SGA senate.
Mosier was joined Friday by Dalton Shell, a WCYR officer and the president of Milligan’s SGA.
“Our SGA’s talked a little bit about this,” Shell said. “I think if they had reached out to us and expressed that they had concerns I think that would have been taken a lot better than what happened, and I think we would have been able to have some appropriate dialogue.”
A vote by the full senate is expected Tuesday, and Mosier said he does believe a measure of that nature is “within the bounds” of SGA’s authority. He expects it to pass, but anticipates something short of a landslide.
“My only goal is to represent my constituents, give the opposing side and say, ‘listen, this is why that we believe that this is a bad piece of legislation.’”
Mosier said he believes the measure — especially if acted upon by ETSU’s administration — would create a real rift between the two universities to the detriment of the community.
Drafted as a response to the forced resignation reported early this month by News Channel 11, the resolution condemns what it calls Milligan’s “abhorrent stance toward its handling of LGBT issues.”
It also “calls on the University to end all athletics scheduling, abandon pursuit of future academic agreements, and terminate partnerships in which University monies would be paid to Milligan or other universities with such discriminatory policies and procedures, whether towards sexuality, gender identity, race, age, religion, disability status, or sex of an individual.”
Mosier said he doesn’t believe ETSU’s community as a whole would support those types of actions, and said he’d heard significant opposition to the resolution from students, as well as some support.
Mosier said he’d urge President Brian Noland to “listen to the ETSU donors, listen to the ETSU family members, listen to the larger community that this is not something that they want.
“They want a relationship between Milligan and ETSU to grow to flourish and to prosper so that in the future we can work together to combat things in this region like opioid crisis and different things like that. We can have sports together. We can live and work and engage with one another…”
Mosier and Shell both said they were concerned about potential wider ramifications.
“Seeing the things that could happen on campus with this bill, the condemnation of a private religious institution to carry out their decision-making process, could we see ramifications for Chik Fil A, could we see ramifications for the Baptist collegiate ministry and all these different other institutions on campus,” Mosier said.
Reminded that Chik Fil A as a business can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, Mosier said he still thought some in the campus community could try to act against its presence on campus due to the company’s conservative and public stance on marriage.
Shell said he’d still welcome a conversation between ETSU’s SGA and Milligan’s — though Milligan’s full student government would have to call for such a dialogue.
He did say he supports further conversations internally at Milligan about its approach to sexual orientation, which is outlined in its five-year-old Statement on Human Sexuality.
“There’s so many different viewpoints that always come up in those conversations and it’s good because it challenges the community and it challenges you to think outside of your comfort zone,” Shell said.
“So I’m always open to more dialogue. I don’t necessarily know that anything will change or whether it needs to, but I think more dialogue is always welcome.”