The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a college Christian student group cannot exclude gays and lesbians from membership.
The case stemmed from the attempt by the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law to become a fully funded and recognized student group on campus. As Sarah Posner reported here in April, “CLS, which requires members and those wishing to hold leadership positions in the club to be professing Christians and to disavow ‘unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle,‘” was refused an exemption from the law school’s anti-discrimination policy, which includes sexual orientation, in order to gain that recognition.
The Court ruled 5-4 that the college’s decision did not violate the group’s First Amendment rights of association, free speech, and free exercise.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority:
In requiring CLS—in common with all other student organizations—to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations. CLS, it bears emphasis, seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy.
Justice Samuel Alito, not surprisingly, wrote in dissent, bemoaning the tolerance found on college campuses:
“Our proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom of express “the thought that we hate.” Today’s decision rests on a very different principle: no freedom of expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country’s institutions of higher learning.
I mean, really, the First Amendment ought to give groups the right to name who they will hate and reject, right? Leave it to Justice Alito to protect the rights of bullies.
I don’t really know that, given the tenor of CLS and what it stands for, how many budding gay or lesbian lawyers would want to join them—but they ought to be afforded that right—especially if CLS is looking for recognition and funding from the college. They have to abide by the rules—they don’t get any special right to discriminate.
For all the years that the religious right has been howling about how gays and lesbians want “special rights,” it’s always nice to see the double edged sword cutting the other way from time to time.