Politically correct, legally wrong

Monday, April 19, 2010

PICTURE THIS: gay student organizations forced to accept those who believe that homosexuality is an abomination. Student political groups, such as Young Republicans or Young Democrats, compelled to allow members of the other party to vote on policy platforms. A law association for African American students being told that it must let white supremacists run for leadership posts.

Sound absurd? Welcome to the University of California, Hastings College of Law. The school says that student groups that want to enjoy certain benefits must adhere to the school's nondiscrimination policy. Fair enough, except that the school's "all comers" policy requires that a group accept as voting members even those who disagree with its core principles. Organizations that comply gain the right to use campus meeting rooms and school e-mail lists and are invited to the annual student organization fair. They also have the right to apply for grants funded by student activity fees and vending machine sales.

The school lists about 60 such "recognized school organizations," including the Hastings Association of Muslim Law Students, the Hastings Jewish Law Students Association and Hastings Outlaw, a group founded by gay students.

The Christian Law Society (CLS) is not among them. Although it allows all Hastings students to attend meetings, CLS reserves voting membership and leadership posts for those who sign a declaration of faith that includes belief in Jesus Christ. The group asserts that "in the view of the clear dictates of Scripture, unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle is inconsistent with an affirmation of the Statement of Faith, and consequently may be regarded by CLS as disqualifying such an individual from CLS membership." What CLS considers as disqualifying are "all acts of sexual conduct outside of God's design for marriage between one man and one woman, which acts include fornication, adultery, and homosexual conduct."

The policy did not go over well in the San Francisco-based law school, which declined to recognize CLS after concluding that its policies discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation. CLS filed suit, and the Supreme Court will hear argument Monday. The law school argues that its actions are reasonable because it applies the nondiscrimination policy fairly to all groups. But the school approved the bylaws of La Raza Law Students Association even though they limited membership to "students of Raza background"; La Raza amended its bylaws after a lawyer for CLS took note.

It is one thing to require that groups that accept school funds and use school facilities give every student the opportunity to attend meetings or explore the virtues of a particular organization. But it is altogether different to require groups to accept as members or leaders even those who disagree with its central beliefs. This cuts at the core of meaningful association; penalizing a group by withholding school benefits only exacerbates the harm.

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