YOU WOULD HAVE THOUGHT we would have learned this lesson in Vietnam, where a military officer once famously proclaimed that "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" -- but apparently not. In modern academia, they are out to save campus diversity by eliminating it from campus.
Before the United States Supreme Court this week is a case, Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez, which asks whether a public university can, in the interest of upholding nondiscrimination, require campus organizations to accept as members any student who wishes to join. Stated that way, the obvious answer would seem to be, sure, why not?
Consider that such a requirement means that a faith-based organization must accept students who do not hold the beliefs and values of the group if that group wishes to be recognized by the university. A Christian organization would have to admit, among others, atheists. A Christian group open to all is not a Christian group, I would contend. It is just a group. Consider the campus NAACP being required to admit neo-Nazis, the campus Democrats, card-carrying Republicans, or the campus chapter of NOW, male chauvinists. This does not seem so reasonable.
Couldn't such "exclusive" groups just go on unrecognized? Yes, but official recognition, which in the case of the Hastings Law School at the University of California in San Francisco allows an organization to use school classroom space, e-mail communications and other facilities, makes recognition almost essential for a fully functioning campus group. Without official recognition, a "campus" group would be at best at the margins of campus, meeting off campus while only able to communicate with the student body via unofficial means. They would be, to use a phrase that seems eerily familiar, "separate and unequal."
Many media reports, such as one in USA Today, characterize the constitutional question here as whether "a state-run law school may refuse to recognize a religious student group that keeps out gay students and non-Christians." It is not. The Christian Legal Society does not "keep out gays" anymore than it "keeps out heterosexuals." It does, however, keep out as members gays, and straights, who don't hold to its religious tenets and moral values. Those include its statement of "biblical principles of sexual morality," which says that a student who "advocates or unrepentantly engages in sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman" isn't eligible to vote for or become a group leader.
The CLS does not exclude anyone from attending their meetings, but they do limit leaders and voting members to those who are Christian, as defined by the CLS. That is, I would venture, why they call themselves the Christian Legal Society and not something else. This ability to define who may and who may not join their organization, according to their beliefs and behaviors, is a fundamental freedom. The freedom to associate necessarily presupposes a right not to associate.
One group understands this. Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty, which in their amicus brief supporting the CLS, point out that the freedom for gay Americans to form gay associations -- whose membership rules they defined for themselves -- gave them their collective voice in the face of an often hostile majority. "[U]nder Hastings' forced membership policy, only majority viewpoints . . . are actually assured a voice in Hastings' forum," argues their brief, which notes that this is "a patently unreasonable way" to "promote a diversity of viewpoints."
Anyone who thinks this case is just about the way-out left coast should be reminded that in December 2002 the University of North Carolina told its InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter that it objected to IVCF's constitution saying that officers must "subscribe ... to…Christian doctrine.” The InterVarsity chapter was instructed to “modify the wording" of its charter or have its "university recognition” revoked. Alan Charles Kors, the founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which successfully advocated on behalf of UNC's InterVarsity chapter, characterized UNC’s demand this way: “In short, it is prohibited at this public university for a Christian organization to be Christian.” Odd way to promote diversity, I would think.
Gary D. Gaddy would not see fit to join any organization that would have him as a member.
A version of this story is set to be published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday April 23, 2010.Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy