Thursday, March 19, 2009

No More Groupies!

Christianity Today has reported on a concerning ruling in California by the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled yesterday that a California law school could lawfully bar the school's Christian Legal Society from being recognized as a student group for requiring its members to sign a statement of faith. The ruling could set a precedent for the way Christian organizations can or cannot retain their distinct religious beliefs at public colleges with nondiscrimination policies.
You can go to Christianity Today's site and read a portion of the argument the Christian Legal Society made. I would like to point out the actual ruling the court made:

The parties stipulate that Hastings imposes an open membership rule on all student groups — all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group. The conditions on recognition are therefore viewpoint neutral and reasonable.
Of course, I am not a lawyer so I am untrained to read such incredibly complex legal-eeze. But according to the words, I can establish a group and say "The mission of my group is X" but then I have to allow everyone to join my group even when they do not agree with the mission of the group. So I cannot impose membership requirements and restrict access to people who might have ideas utterly alien and hostile to what my group seeks to accomplish. Thus, when I accept everybody, they might out vote me on the purpose of the group and utterly redefine the mission of the group.

I know this is very complex and tough so let me use an example. I could start a Star Trek Club. Our mission statement could be: "To promote the good of Star Trek and its philosophies". But I have to let everyone in--including those evil Star Wars fans who find Star Trek utterly reprehensibly and morally suspect. In fact, to be fair and open I cannot say anything such as "Members shall not bad mouth Star Trek" or "Members shall uphold the ideals of Star Trek in all realms of society, in belief and practice." So any old Star Wars hack must be allowed to enter my group. They must be allowed to proffer their views. They must be allowed to disagree with the ideals upon which the group was founded. In fact, I cannot even say "Because we are promoting Star Trek, members of the group must live as faithful Trekkies" and then define with any concreteness what a Trekkie does, how he acts. I cannot impose stipulations, such as membership removal for those who do not act like good Trekkies. To say those who hate Star Trek are not welcome in my group is now discrimination.

Again, I'm no legal scholar but the whole purpose of a group is to distinguish yourself from a larger society. The whole purpose of a group is to band together with shared common ideals and distinguish yourself from those who do not share your ideals. It isn't mean or hostile to say "We are united for this cause and if you do not agree with us do not unite with us."

I am all for non-discrimination rightly understood but defining your group and your group's mission means that you will have to distinguish. A group ceases to be a group if it can't delineate those who are different from their ideals and respectfully and civilly say: 'you are not in keeping with our goal and mission'. Even the California Bar has standards for admissions and ethical standards to maintain membership.

Again, I'm no lawyer but this strikes me as Sociology 101. A group has to be able to define it's position. A group has the right to be able to define itself and its standards. A group should be allowed to say up front that if you do not agree with a certain set of standards, you really cannot unite with the group. To think otherwise makes such groups and uniting to groups a sham.

The next question: will this standard be fairly applied to all groups? The Christian Legal Society suggests that the policy is already being applied discriminatory in terms of who is and is not allowed to have group standards. The reality is that as the Christian Legal Society tried to argue Hastings does not impose an open membership on all groups:
Hastings allows other registered student organizations to require that their leaders and/or members agree with the organization’s beliefs and purposes. . . . Outlaw [a pro-gay rights group] is free to remove officers if they fail to support the organization's pro-gay rights purpose; Silenced Right: National Alliance Pro-Life Group may require its members to support its pro-life purposes; . . . Hastings’ nondiscrimination policy is viewpoint discriminatory, as it allows a vegetarian club to require that officers and members not eat meat, but prohibits an Orthodox Jewish group for requiring its officers and members to abstain from pork for religious reasons.

I guess all groups are not created equal.

(HT: R. Scott Clark)

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