Pensacola Christian College

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If
one is to believe the exit polling data from the recent presidential
election, President Bush owes his victory in no small part to conservative
Christians. This constituency is primarily concerned with the issues
of homosexual marriage, abortion, and vulgarity in the media. While
the president has not necessarily placed such issues at the forefront
of his agenda (imperial wars and government handouts seem to interest
him more), they most likely reasoned that a liberal from Massachusetts
would be less inclined towards keeping the forces of hedonism at
bay.

In
order to abate the nation's cultural decline, these Christian Republicans
have promoted an array of rather anti-libertarian measures for the
federal government to take including a Constitutional amendment
to ban gay marriage, federalizing the abortion issue, and using
the FCC to stamp out indecency. But is this truly the best way to
secure cultural conservatism in America?

Leaving
aside the practicality of the policies encouraged by the Religious
Right — does anyone actually believe that getting the federal government
involved will solve any of these problems? — is libertarianism really
as incompatible with morality as the Robertsons and Falwells of
the world believe? After all, in a libertarian society based upon
localism and private property, everyone would enjoy the absolute
right to freedom of association, which includes not being forced
to associate with many of moral reprobates who are all too common
in America today.

Interestingly
enough, even in our nation's present socialist condition, there
is demonstrable evidence that private property is the greatest bulwark
against having ones own values undermined by external influences:
Pensacola Christian College,
a fundamentalist Christian school in Florida, which despite the
fact that most of those associated with the school are probably
Bush Republicans, is an excellent example of the virtue of private
property rights over state coercion.

PCC
has a strict code of conduct and a very conservative interpretation
of the Bible. Obvious infractions against the school's policies
include engaging in any sort of sexual conduct, use of alcohol,
and displays of disrespect towards the college's faculty and staff.
Additionally, skipping class, dating (outside of the school's strict
parameters), and mixed swimming are specifically proscribed. Forget
about revealing clothing on young ladies — Not only must they dress
modestly, but pants are also considered unacceptable. On top of
these (and numerous other regulations), students are constantly
monitored and may only leave campus with PCC's permission.

Not
surprisingly, these strict rules have earned the ire
of many students
(both current and former). However, the intent
here is neither to offer approbation nor condemnation to Pensacola
(personally I have little problem with many of their rules though
some of the methods of enforcement seem a bit harsh) — instead,
it is to evaluate the libertarian nature of the school's model.

One
may question how a school with such an array of Draconian rules
could serve as any sort of libertarian paradigm; however, if we
recognize that libertarianism is value neutral, PCC demonstrates
precisely what private property owners can do to defend their principles
and way of life in a free society.

To
begin with, Pensacola is a private institution which deliberately
refuses to accept any public funding or financial aid (which would
endanger its autonomy). Therefore, its existence is entirely based
upon consumer demand (whether in the form of tuition payments or
external offerings). Despite the objections some students and alumni
may have regarding this institution, there is clearly some element
of Christian America which desires there to be such a fundamentalist
institution available to college undergraduate and graduate students.
Were this not the case, the school would fold and one could logically
conclude that because it could not be sustained in the market, there
is no true demand for such a college.

While
there is evidently a demonstrable inclination among fundamentalist
students (or at least their parents) for the strict guidelines enforced
by Pensacola, as the previously mentioned comments* indicate, there
is some dissatisfaction among the school's customer base. However,
while PCC's rules may appear excessive, no coercion is involved.
Students and their families are free to make their own decisions
regarding attending the school in the first place or opting to withdraw
later on. Once a student does matriculate, he is subject
to the Pensacola's code of conduct, but this is no different than
agreeing to follow the guidelines of any other private institution
once one is granted admission. For instance, you can't take a dip
in the water traps at a golf course nor can you run onto the field
at a baseball stadium.

Furthermore,
the market is self regulating. Just as products are reviewed and
excoriated if they are of inferior quality, colleges face similar
scrutiny from a variety of sources. The “studentreview.com” certainly
offers candid commentary about the pros and cons of PCC. Though
there is no such thing as perfect information (neo-classical economic
theories aside), information is more accessible today than ever
before thanks to the internet. If your idea of a good time at college
includes imbibing and fraternizing with coeds rather than Bible
studies and chapel, there seems to be no dearth of information available
to indicate that Pensacola might not be the college for you.

In
fact, if you don't think you're exactly PCC material, the school
doesn't really want you. Unlike state institutions (such as public
secondary schools), Pensacola has limited interest in reforming
wayward students. If one earns too many demerits or is responsible
for a large enough infraction, he/she automatically wins a no-expenses
paid trip back home (if the school's critics are to be believed).
Apparently, Pensacola has decided to focus its attention primarily
on fostering an environment that is hospitable to only the most
obedient students. Permitting the perfidious to repeatedly defy
the stringent rules would undermine the character of such a community.

As
mentioned, for whatever virtues or faults PCC may have, no one is
forced to attend (or even fund it), adequate information about the
school is available, and if one just can't hack their standards,
Pensacola will be sure to let him/her know. Given this, there seems
to be little room to condemn PCC from a libertarian standpoint.
True, the rules would probably seem harsh to most people, but what
exactly would one expect from a fundamentalist Christian school?
Of course, there may be those who don't care for the school's philosophy
because they agree with neo-Evangelical, Reform, Catholic, Jewish,
Mormon or no theology; however, these are personal preferences and
the existence of Pensacola Christian College in no ways impedes
others from disagreeing with their viewpoint (at least from their
own private property).

Let
us imagine, though, what the results would be like if the folks
in charge of PCC were suddenly granted the power to govern the entire
nation based upon their philosophical and theological contentions.
If Pensacola has earned the ire of (at the very least) a vocal minority
of its own student body over its authoritarian policies, one can
only imagine how a nation replete with folks who believe abstinence
until marriage is passé would respond to statutory proscriptions
against women wearing pants.

First
of all, just like any government program which forces individuals
to behave in a certain manner, these public morality laws would
create widespread resentment particularly towards devout Christians.
This would probably endanger believers while also hindering their
ability to witness to others.

Additionally,
a PCC government would lose its most effective weapon for eliminating
dissent: Expulsion. It would be unfeasible for a nation to deport
every citizen who violates some arcane rule at the drop of a hat.
This would lead to selective enforcement of the law, but more so,
it would also require a massive police force, prison system, and
possibly even wide scale executions — All of which would also be
subject to internal corruption.

Furthermore
this would constitute a vast waste of resources. Taxes would have
to be levied or debt issued to pay for this monstrous police state
while the effect on public morality would probably be nil.

Compare
this with the current situation where students voluntarily contribute
their resources to spend four years at an institution which does
not have to compromise on its moral standards nor resort to brutality:
Under the current system, Pensacola enters into an agreement with
its students. The students have the right to expect a devout fundamentalist
environment free of many of the distractions and stumbling blocks
of the world while the school demands compliance with its policies.
This voluntary situation allows those who do not appreciate such
an environment to withdraw (or never attend in the first place)
from PCC while permitting the college to engineer its student body
the way it sees fit. Such opt out options are not available with
a “one size fits all” federal government.

In
fact, it is perplexing that any group really wants to use the state
to achieve its ends. Does anyone really believe they can change
the hearts and minds of individuals by force? While it is dubious
that there are many registered Libertarians (or even lower case
libertarians) at Pensacola, they have unwittingly made themselves
a case study for the free market perspective. Imagine how much better
off we would be if every group and institution rejected public subsidies,
worried about maintaining its values without interfering with others,
and simply disassociated itself with those it disagreed.

December
21, 2004

Scott
Rosen [send him mail] is
a research analyst for a DC area trade association. He is a recent
graduate of the Kogod School of Business at American University
with a degree in business and economics.

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