Today, in an editorial in favor of a lawsuit filed against the University of California’s Hastings College of Law, the editors of the Washington Times mention an amicus brief in which I played a small part. You see, “U.C. Hastings denied the status of ‘Registered Student Organization’ (RSO) to . . . the Christian Legal Society (CLS), a conservative religious student group.” Without RSO recognition, the group could not meet in university rooms or “use ordinary campus means of communicating”.
The school refused to register the group
. . . because it requires its voting members and officers to abide by an extensive, faith-based pledge that includes a prohibition on all premarital and extramarital sex. Anybody can come to the group’s meetings and participate, but only those – heterosexual and homosexual alike – who adopt the Statement of Faith can serve as officers and actually lead the Bible study. The university administration decided that a prohibition on sexual activity applicable to all voting members somehow discriminates specifically against homosexuals. (Secondarily, it said CLS discriminates on the basis of religion.)
Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL), a group of which I am a member, filed an amicus brief on behalf of the CLS, not because we support their policy, but because we support their freedom to set their own standards for membership, much as we would support the freedom of a woman’s group to advocate a feminist ideology or a sport club to promote a softball tournament (limited to qualified athletes).
When Rick Sincere who moderates our listserv asked whether our group should file such a brief, I strongly encouraged the group to do so–to support (and articulate) the ideal of freedom for which our nation’s founders pledges their live, their fortunes and their sacred honor.
In the brief, we stood strongly against forced membership policies and for freedom of association. For just as freedom of association means a Christian group can exclude non-celibate individuals from its leaderships, can a gay group can exclude those biased against people like us from its leadership:
Hasting’ forced-membership policy needlessly pits associational freedom against equality. Loss of associational freedom is the price of admission to Hastings’ speech forum. . . . [The] policy significantly impairs CLS’s ability to express its core beliefs because it would require CLS to place control over its message in the hands of those who reject its core beliefs as encapsulated in the Statement of Faith.
CLS should determine its own beliefs, not some university council.
Let us hope other gay groups join GLIL in standing up for the freedom of association. If the court prevents Christian groups from defining the standards for their own association at a public university, public universities in regions of the country not favorably disposed to people like us could prevent gay groups from setting their own standards.
Let me repeat, the issue here is not the ideology of the Christian group, but their freedom to express those beliefs and associate with whomever they choice, rights guaranteed explicitly in the First Amendment to the Consitution.