Should a student religious group at a public university be allowed to bar a certain group of students from membership ”” gay students, to be precise ”” without losing its official student-group status, and the funding and other benefits that go with it?
Today, the answer to that constitutionally loaded question depends on which federal appellate court you ask. In a case involving the Christian Legal Society at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the school was entirely within its rights when it denied recognition to the Christian Legal Society over its unwillingness to accept as members gay students or any others who did not share the group’s beliefs. The 7th Circuit reached the opposite conclusion in a similar case at Southern Illinois University’s law school.
Clarity is presumably on the way, as the U.S. Supreme Court has taken on the Hastings case and will hear arguments April 19. Let’s hope the country comes out of it with a clearer understanding of what’s in and what’s out when it comes to the membership policies of religious student groups. And let’s hope that the high court sheds some much needed light on the larger issues evoked by the law school case:
Does religious freedom include the right to discriminate on the basis of gender, race or sexuality? Do authorities have the right to foist their values on religious groups through carrots and sticks such as meeting-space privileges and the threat of withholding funds? And, as more conservatives are asking these days, shouldn’t that oft-proclaimed liberal principle of “tolerance” also be invoked to the benefit of tradition-minded Christians?