The Supreme Court Backs Inclusiveness on Campus

Score one for inclusiveness. This week, the Supreme Court handed down 5-4 ruling that allows school officials to deny funding and other benefits to religious student organizations if such organizations discriminate against others based on their religion and sexual orientation.

The case started at the University of California’s Hastings campus, where a group called the Christian Legal Society (CLS) had a position of disapproving of all “unrepentant” sex outside of marriage. Meanwhile, CLS denied LGBT students access to the group, unless they first adopted the group’s religious beliefs. Hastings chose to deny the group public funding — not because of its religious beliefs or views on sexual orientation, but because the college denies official recognition to any student organization that excludes any student, for any reason.

In Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez, CLS argued that UC Hasting’s nondiscrimination policy violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association. The Supreme Court, though, ruled against CLS because the school’s policy was “viewpoint neutral” and therefore did not “transgress First Amendment limitations.”

At the heart of the debate was whether the UC Hastings College of Law had selectively singled out and denied official recognition to the religious club while treating other campus groups differently. Though the facts are unclear, Hastings did admit that it has only barred the Christian Legal Society from recognition, even as it’s recognized other student groups that limit their membership to people of shared views.
During the debate, Justice Sotomayor brought up the problem of selective application of the law, stating that campus organizations such as the La Raza Unidas are allowed to limit their membership to just Latinos. In fact, there is no such discrimination in La Raza Unidas’ bylaws, and membership is generally open to everyone.

The counsel for the Christian Legal Society tried to argue that any ruling in favor of Hastings could encourage sabotage, since an NAACP chapter could, for example, be forced to allow membership to a racist skinhead. Hastings pointed out that such a sabotage had never happened, and moreover, the exclusion of CLS as a campus group was based on a nondiscrimination policy.

Writing for the majority, Ruth Bayer Ginsburg pointed out that UC Hastings had still preserved freedom of association by allowing the Christian Legal Society access to school facilities to hold meetings and advertise events. There’s nothing wrong with Hastings Law refusing to subsidize a group with public funds (student body fees) when the group in question directly violates the college’s non-discrimination laws. For example, if a student group at Hastings decided to exclude a student based on race or ethnicity, the group would be denied official designation, but would still have the right to use school facilities for meetings.

So long as an educational institution “tolerates the intolerant,” the individual right to freedom of association is not infringed. In a case like CLS, let’s hope that the broader student body keeps such an openly intolerant group where it belongs: on the sidelines.

Photo Credit: wallyg

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