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Commentary By John Leo

Universities Shouldn't Favor Politically Popular Groups

Education Higher Ed

In Monday’s oral arguments in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, two or three justices seem baffled by the complexity of it all. But the issue is simple enough: Is it reasonable for a university to insist that campus Christian groups accept leaders or members who disagree with one or more the groups’ basic principles?

Or to put it another way, shouldn’t all students have the right to form groups around shared beliefs without being punished or excluded from campus life?

Most campuses have anti-discrimination language, considered harmless when drawn up, saying that membership, benefits, and the election of officers cannot be biased on the basis of race, sex, handicap, age, sexual orientation, or political and religious affiliation.

“Political and religious affiliation” is rarely the sticking point, though the usual antidiscrimination language would require a Democratic club to allow a Republican president, a Jewish group to allow a Holocaust-denying president, and a Muslim group to accept a leader who believes in Christianity, animism, or voodoo.

The only clubs or societies that seem to draw the wrath of college administrators are not flat-earthers seeking membership in a geography club, or whites demanding entry into an African-American society, but rather is conservative Christian clubs under assault from gay groups and their allies. The real intention is to break or banish religious groups with biblically-based opposition to homosexuality.

Alan Charles Kors, co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said: “Everybody on campus would immediately see the absurdity . . . if an evangelical Christian who believed homosexuality to be a sin tried to become president of a university’s Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Alliance. The administration would have led candlelight vigils on behalf of the gays.”

The primary lesson here is not that universities are torn between freedom of religion and anti-bias rules. Rather the lesson is that administrators are willing to respond to a powerful campus group, the gay lobby, at the expense of one that is weaker and usually disfavored on campus.

Though written in the bland language of brotherhood, antidiscrimination laws give critics of private groups “a public hammer with which to beat groups they oppose,” Richard Epstein, professor of law at the University of Chicago said in 2003. They also provide a way for outsiders to reach into a dissenting group to determine its membership, policies, and officers.

Using a verbal screen of “diversity,” “fairness,” and “nondiscrimination,” university officials delegitimize religion by substituting campus orthodoxy for religious principles. Even if a university feels torn, its anti-discrimination rules shouldn’t trump the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of religion, association, and speech.

Antidiscrimination laws are in fact becoming a threat to these freedoms. The Supreme Court mustn’t flub this one.

This piece originally appeared in Washington Examiner

This piece originally appeared in Washington Examiner