Commentary: The court, clubs and the challenge of discrimination
"I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member."
That familiar one-liner has been attributed over the years to the late Groucho Marx, but in light of the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision this week in the case of Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez (UC Hastings), the sentiment it contains may have some contemporary legal relevance.
The Court ruled that a public university is not required to subsidize campus groups it considers discriminatory. The Christian Legal Society (CLS) excludes homosexuals and non-Christians. But isn't the court allowing the university to discriminate against the beliefs of the Christian group, especially if the group is now required to admit people who violate teachings central to its faith and mission statement?
In writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the school's policy, which requires student organizations to be open to everyone to qualify for official status, "ensures that no Hastings student is forced to fund a group that would reject her as a member." I wonder if this would apply to a member of CLS if they applied for membership in the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender club, or anything else that may come down the pike. Will campus Jewish groups be required to admit Christians? Maybe the football team can bring a discrimination suit against the school for not allowing them to shower with the women's lacrosse team. The Court's ruling in the CLS case is no less far-fetched.
Student activity fees have long subsidized campus organizations whose beliefs and practices no doubt offend and are counter to the beliefs and practices of other students. The way the legal game is played, the beliefs of Christian groups can be regularly offended, but gay and other groups favored by the secular left enjoy special status from academic elites. This is what passes for pluralism, tolerance and academic freedom on college campuses.
Reacting to the Court's decision, constitutional attorney John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute said, "The Supreme Court has now enshrined political correctness as a central tenet in American society and in American university life. This decision is yet another broadsided attack on the First Amendment, especially religious freedom. It will force well-meaning groups to abandon the tenets of their faith in order to be granted the same privileges and freedoms afforded to other campus groups and organizations. If not, they will face discrimination."
Dissenting justices said the Court is punishing the Christian organization because of its views. Justice Samuel Alito said the ruling means "no freedom for expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country's institutions of higher learning."
Justice Antonin Scalia, during oral arguments, articulated the problem with what emerged as the majority ruling: "It is so weird to require the campus Republican Club to admit Democrats, not just to membership, but to officership," he said. "To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes, right? That's crazy."
The ruling is consistent with many other Court decisions over the past five decades. In contests between "Christians and lions," the Court too often has sided with the lions, making Christians second-class citizens, while upgrading to preferred-class status those who oppose faith and its requirements.
The CLS can always seek private funding, but would it still be allowed to meet on campus and decide for itself who can be a member if it no longer takes funds from the university? The university could easily decide that only groups approved by the school get to have access to campus facilities, which would further discriminate and isolate the Christian group. And that would probably suit the gay groups, whose activism -- especially in San Francisco -- appears to be openly hostile to religious faith and tradition.
Cal Thomas' e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.