Tuesday, February 23, 2010

U.C. Hastings College of Law v. the Christian Legal Society

The U. S. Supreme Court has set a date, April 19, to hear oral arguments in the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. According to a Washington Times editorial:
The case's facts are straightforward. U.C. Hastings denied the status of "Registered Student Organization" (RSO) to CLS. This incident is the only time the school has ever denied such recognition to a club that applied. Without RSO status, clubs lack the right to meet in university rooms for free, or to use ordinary campus means of communicating with other students such as the school newsletter, bulletin boards or university e-mail lists. Federal courts consistently have recognized that denial of these ordinary ways of communication constitutes a problematic burden on student organizations.

U.C. Hastings objected to the Christian group because it requires its voting members and officers to abide by an extensive, faith-based pledge that includes a prohibition on all premarital and extramarital sex. Anybody can come to the group's meetings and participate, but only those - heterosexual and homosexual alike - who adopt the Statement of Faith can serve as officers and actually lead the Bible study. The university administration decided that a prohibition on sexual activity applicable to all voting members somehow discriminates specifically against homosexuals. (Secondarily, it said CLS discriminates on the basis of religion.) On those grounds, the school refused to register the group.

The school's stance is unacceptable. As a religious organization, CLS has a constitutional right, confirmed in a series of court cases, to determine its own standards of conduct and rules for membership. This right also applies to nonreligious groups by virtue of the right of "expressive association," but the protection for religious groups is arguably stronger.

As was noted in the brief by Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty, the right to determine one's own membership actually does more to protect than to harm "disfavored and disenfranchised minority groups," by protecting their own right to freely associate. Moreover, "Hastings College of Law has adopted a system of compulsory association. ... The oppressive and irrational impact of this policy [would block] CLS [from] communicat[ing] its distinctive beliefs in a speech forum created for diverse student expression." That's why, according to the homosexual group, "Hastings' policy is both self-defeating and unconstitutional."
Read the whole thing here. (Full disclosure: I am one of 24 former presidents of the Evangelical Theological Society who signed an amicus brief in support of the CLS. You can read the brief, here). For links to other amicus briefs that support CLS (including the one from Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty), go here. Also, CLS is ecumenical, and thus includes Catholic and Protestant members.

No comments: