Rod Dreher

I forgot to note the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision denying the rights of a Christian group on a California college campus to deny membership to gays who don’t believe in traditional Christian teaching on sexual morality. The Court said that the college was within its rights to deny the Christian Legal Society official recognition. Wendy Kaminer — who is a liberal feminist civil libertarian, mind you — finds this ruling objectionable. Excerpts:

The Court’s ruling in Christian Legal Society v Hastings is more like an endorsement than a rejection of official loyalty oaths. It upholds state power to condition the benefits extended to private associations on their willingness to conform to an official ideology – in this case a particular view of sexual morality.


Private associations, however, do not have any inherent rights to public support, and the Court stressed that CLS was not denied the right to exist or organize on campus; it was the denied the benefits of official recognition. The trouble is that CLS appears to have been denied recognition and benefits because state university officials disapproved of its ideological opposition to homosexuality: If the states chooses to extend benefits to private groups, it can’t discriminate between them on the basis of their viewpoints; CLS appears to have been the victim of viewpoint discrimination, (or political correctness).

Kaminer goes on to explain what she means, and how in her view, the majority ruled as it did not out of consistent principle, but because it didn’t like the viewpoint expressed by the Christian Legal Society.

[Full equality for gays is] a vision I share and would impose on employers and other commercial entities pursuant to civil rights laws — while opposing its official imposition on private, non-commercial associations. Atheist groups that require prospective members to sign statements disavowing belief in a deity, or religious groups requiring members to affirm particular articles of faith should not lose their not for profit tax status because they engage in religious discrimination.

I might have argued before that it’s important for all people who care about freedom of speech and religion to support the CLS, even if they do not agree with its viewpoint, because protecting CLS’s right to decide who gets to be a member is protecting every group’s right to decide its own membership. Apparently, though, our Supreme Court believes that it’s licit to protect other groups, while singling traditional Christians out for special discrimination. As Cathy Young wrote at the libertarian site Reason:

How would people feel if, at a public university that happened to be dominated by religious conservatives, a gay-rights group was denied recognition because it refused membership to people who openly espouse anti-gay views?

I would feel that would be very wrong. No gay group should be forced to accept members who deny its organizing principles as a condition of being allowed to be a member of the campus community. Then again, I believe in strong First Amendment rights of association. This ruling is a bellwether, I fear.

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