Monday, April 19, 2010

The idea is crazy

This may be one to watch: a Christian student group wants to be a recognized group on a university campus, but the university won't let them--because they want to restrict the membership to Christians:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court seemed to split sharply Monday on whether a law school can deny recognition to a Christian student group that won't let gays join, a case that could determine whether nondiscrimination policies trump the rights of private organizations to determine who can — and cannot — belong.

In arguments tinged with questions of religious, racial and sexual discrimination, the court heard from the Christian Legal Society, which wants recognition from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law as an official campus organization with school financing and benefits.

Hastings, located in San Francisco, turned them down, saying no recognized campus groups may exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.

The Christian group requires that voting members sign a statement of faith. The group also regards "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle" as being inconsistent with the statement of faith.

"CLS has all of its activities entirely open to everyone," lawyer Michael McConnell said. "What it objects to is being run by non-Christians."

The case could have wider ramifications, though:

"If Hastings is correct, a student who does not even believe in the Bible is entitled to demand to lead a Christian Bible study, and if CLS does not promise to allow this, the college will bar them," said McConnell, a former judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

University lawyer Gregory Garre pointed out that it requires the same thing from all groups that want to operate on campus.

"It is so weird to require the campus Republican Club to admit Democrats, not just to membership, but to officership," Justice Antonin Scalia said. "To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes, right? That's crazy."

Other justices questioned where a ruling for the Christian group would lead.

I think this case is an interesting one because it doesn't just involve freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but also the freedom of assembly and association. People can (and will) argue that the Christian group is free to meet--off campus, with no official recognition by the school, and with no access to the funding that other student groups can access, but that's the price they have to pay for being "intolerant" and "exclusive."

But that's really just begging the question. The Christian group has said that its activities will be open to anyone--there's no secret purpose of discrimination here. What they want is to keep the voting membership to those who share the group's values and purpose for existence. But apparently in twenty-first century America such a mild request is proof of discriminatory intent and hostile bigotry against those who aren't Christian.

Taken to its logical conclusions, though, as Justice Scalia does, the idea is crazy. College Republicans shouldn't have their agendas set by voting members who are Democrats; a same-sex advocacy student group shouldn't have to allow fundamentalist Christians to vote on their policies or agenda items; a Jewish student group shouldn't have to let Muslims be voting members; and a Christian student group should not have its policies and goals at the mercy of atheist students. To demand this is to make all groups exercises in futility and lunacy, and to teach students the lesson that individuality of thought and ideas is the one form of "diversity" which simply isn't permissible, and has to be stamped out at all costs.

The sad thing is that this is, indeed, what society things of individuality of thought and ideas. It doesn't matter, for instance, to our consumerist monolith if you are a Coke addict, a member of the Pepsi generation, or even a coffee achiever, so long as you represent a diversity of caffeine consumers. But it does matter, and matters very much, if you are a serious person of faith who questions all consumption, or if you are an independent thinker who likes fountain sodas from a tiny old-fashioned soda shop, or if your religion rejects caffeine altogether; those aren't ideas to be accommodated, but crazy notions which require the bare minimum of tolerance. The analogy of beverage purchasing can only go so far, but the idea is simple: our culture loves diversity, so long as it's shallow, skin-deep, and concerned primarily with external qualities--but our culture hates the diversity that lets a serious Roman Catholic defend his Church's teachings against homosexual sex, or a serious Christian stand vigil outside an abortion clinic, or...but you get the idea.

However this case is decided, the freedoms we cherish of assembly and association are going to come under attack with greater frequency in the coming decades--because the right to gather with like-minded people will be seen as intolerant and bigoted, something that challenges our culture in ways it would rather not be challenged.


JimmyV said...

I've wondered when something like this would finally come up. Should be interesting. The Boy Scouts have been pummeled on this for years. I pray they will be vindicated.

Muscovite said...

If the Court rules to allow "crazy" to become law, I suggest that all the Christians who want to form their own group join the gay advocacy group, become the majority (there have to be more Christians than gays on campus, right?), and change the nature of the group. The law ought to be able to be applied in both directions, should it not?

Anonymous said...

This case does not fit into a culture war narrative.

It is a necessary test of how two important principles in law, state non-discrimination and religious freedom, are balanced.


Anonymous said...

Our son's school has a Gay and Lesbian club (high school). He wants to start a "Say Nay to being Gay" you think it will fly?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Muscovite has a fascinating idea, perfectly consistent with the logic of the legal argument.

I think the distinction which needs to be made is, if there are recognized campus organizations which are defined by common beliefs, then a club should not be excluded based on what its common beliefs are, and should be free to have a statement of belief as a criterion for voting membership. If not, then there should be NO official recognition of organizations which are based on ANY common belief, (including Democrats and Republicans) in which case, it will be all about social clubs, chess clubs, etc.

Next declension: none of us want a Nazi Law Students organization to be granted official recognition. But they are simply one more belief system. Why discriminate against them? (I know, because they are EVIL -- but we need a standard that will apply to all. Some people believe a NARAL Law Students Group would be evil, some believe a Law Students for Life would be evil, so we need something less subjective). How about, no organization will be recognized which denies the humanity or equality of other human beings? That would allow for a Christian Law Students group which denounces homosexual practices, but acknowledges the humanity of those who engage in such practices. It would exclude from recognition those who advocate that homosexuals are sub-human and should be exterminated from the face of the earth. Fred Phelps, for instance.

The case some years ago about whether the St. Patrick's Day parade organizers in Boston could exclude the "Irish Gay and Lesbian" contingent may be relevant. Justice Souter wrote the opinion that the parade organizers had their own right to free speech, and an unwelcome message could not be imposed upon them under cover of someone else's right of free expression. (The gay and lesbian group was free to have their own parade, on another route. Or, in my opinion, they could have reformulated themsleves as the "Sir Roger Casement Brigade" and what Irish patriot could have refused them then?

Sherry said...

Thank you for bringing this broader attention.

The objective is to diminish the value/importance of having assembly by making the assembly itself tantamount to a hate crime by judiciary fiat.

Would pro-life groups have to admit avid proabortion advocates? It would seem by the logic put forth so; and they're gambling that those who simply wish to assemble for legitimate purposes, aren't going to expend energy going around sabotaging alternative or counter groups.