If we follow the logic of the Supreme Court, a Muslim could lead the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship club on your local campus. As absurd as this sounds, it is the very real, potential outcome of some recent Court rulings, and it is in keeping with the decisions made independently by a number of colleges and universities.
In June, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the “University of California’s Hastings College of the Law acted reasonably, and in a viewpoint-neutral manner, in refusing to officially recognize and give funds to a campus chapter of the Christian Legal Society because the group refused to abide by the school’s requirement that student groups open their membership to all” (as reported by Peter Schmidt for The Chronicle of Higher Education).
The university had been sued by the Alliance Defense Fund when, “The school refused to recognize the campus Christian Legal Society chapter, Hastings Christian Fellowship (HCF), because it [would] not agree to a non-discrimination policy that would require the group to admit homosexuals and non-Christians as members and officers.”
In expressing the majority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that it is “hard to imagine a more viewpoint-neutral policy than one requiring all student groups to accept all comers,” noting that, “Hastings, caught in the crossfire between a group’s desire to exclude and students’ demand for equal access, may reasonably draw a line in the sand permitting all organizations to express what they wish but no group to discriminate in membership.”
In a strongly-worded dissenting view for the minority, Justice Samuel Alito claimed that “the majority opinion rested on the principle of “no freedom of expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country’s institutions of higher learning,” warning that, “The court’s treatment of this case is deeply disappointing” and its decision “arms public educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups.”
The court’s decision also opens the door for campus lunacy. What if a bunch of ardent Republicans decided to take over the campus’s Democratic club? Or atheists decided to take over the Hindu club? Or Jews for Jesus decided to take over the Hillel club? Or Greenpeace devotees decided to take over the hunting club? Or meat-lovers decided to take over the PETA club? Or gay activists decided to take over the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship club? Or evangelical Christians decided to take over the LGBT club? (Oh wait. I’m sure someone would find a way to stop that.)
Is it unreasonable that campus groups would require members – let alone officers – to adhere to their values and beliefs? Isn’t that the purpose of the club?
Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on the decision by Vanderbilt Catholic (a campus group with 500 members) to leave Vanderbilt University “in a dispute over the school’s non-discrimination policy that bars student groups from requiring their leaders to hold specific beliefs.” (All students are allowed to attend meetings but the leaders must adhere to specific beliefs.) As P.J. Jedlovec, the group’s president, stated, “If we were open to having non-Catholics lead the organization, we wouldn’t be Catholic anymore.” This is not exactly rocket science.
While Vanderbilt Catholic has simply chosen to buck the system, other Christian groups still trying working within the system at Vanderbilt have been suspended. (For the record, Vanderbilt was founded as a Methodist institution.)
The Post article noted that, “Similar disputes have taken place in California, New York and North Carolina. The University of Buffalo suspended the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in December after a dispute over a gay student member. The University of North Carolina-Greensboro refused to recognize a Christian group called Make Up Your Own Mind because it discriminated on the basis of faith for leaders. The school relented after being sued.”
Note carefully the words “discriminated on the basis of faith for leaders.” How can it be called “discrimination” when a Christian group requires its leaders to hold to Christian values and beliefs? Rather, it is “discrimination” when the university refuses to allow a Christian group to be Christian.
Last month, the Supreme Court turned down an appeal brought by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of Christian groups challenging the policy at California state universities which did not allow them to restrict “membership in their groups to people who agree with their Christian values and beliefs.” Unfortunately, as noted by ADF attorney Jeremy Tedesco, “one of the key points in the whole case is that every other group on campus is allowed to restrict their membership and their officers to people who agree with the values the group was formed to advocate on campus.”
So, according to the court’s decision, it is not discriminatory for the College Democrats to require that its leaders be Democrats, but it is discriminatory for a Christian group to require that its leaders be Christian. How remarkable.
It appears, then, that a PETA campus group might not be overrun (or run) by cheeseburger-munching students but a Christian group just might be overrun (or run) by Muslim students. I can hear Justice Alito (and the other dissenting justices) saying, “I told you so!”
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.