Thursday, December 10, 2009

Can religious groups restrict their membership to those who are religious?

Richard Day at Kentucky School News and Commentary has a post on a case being reviewd by the U. S. Supreme Court on whether it is permissible for a public law school to prevent a Christian student legal group to restrict its membership to students who actually agree with the group.

The case involves (wouldn't you know it) a law school in San Fransisco. Hastings, to be exact. Day quotes the School Law blog:
The Hastings dispute arose after the law school refused to recognize the Christian Legal Society chapter because the group refused to adhere to the school's non-discrimination policy. Specifically, the group refuses to refrain from discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation, the law school says in court papers.

The CLS chapter says in court papers that it only has voting members, and such members must affirm the national organization's "statement of faith," which involves "a shared devotion to Jesus Christ." The statement says that "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle is inconsistent' with the group's beliefs...
In other words, can a religious group discriminate on the basis of religion? It is hard to imagine, if you take the freedom of religion seriously, that is, why anyone would think otherwise. Except, that is, on the basis of modern Diversity, the idea of which is to bring about total ideological uniformity.

What's interesting on Day's blog, however, was the title of the post: Day titled his post "'Christians' using Jesus to Discriminate." Um, shouldn't the quotation marks be around the word 'Discriminate'?


Richard Day said...

If it's OK for an organization to have a policy, is it then necessary for all groups within that organization to act within that policy? And - if I'm hearing you correctly - the organization has the right to throw folks out if they don't, right?

Your standard diversity strawman aside, it will be interesting to see how the court handles the case. I feel confident it will not be argued on diversity, rather whether it is the proper function of a public organization to exclude citizens of good standing for reasons having nothing to do with the function or purpose of the organization...or something like that.

As for "Christians," in denouncing those who would persecute homosexuals in Jesus's name, evangelical Pastor Rick Warren wrote this week, "Let me be clear that God's Word states that all sex outside of marriage is not what God intends. Jesus reaffirmed what Moses wrote that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman committed to each other for life. Jesus also taught us that the greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Since God created all, and Jesus suffered and died for all, then we are to treat all with respect."

That strikes me as a fair appraisal of Jesus's teachings.

When fundamentalist Christians begin to denounce other Biblical abominations (adultery, spilling seed, shell know the list) with the same fervor that they use to attack homosexuals - politically - I may still disagree, but my respect for that position will increase.

...on opposition to a proposed Ugandan law that would imprison anyone convicted of homosexual practice and even includes the death penalty. Warren calls the law "unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals." No such proposed law exists in America - to my knowledge - but the religious arguments are the same.

Martin Cothran said...


A straw man is when you make up an unrealistic caricature of your opponent's position and attack it. Who needs straw men when we've got places like Hastings Law School?

In what way is Hastings (which I assume is what you are referring to in the term 'a public organization') excluding citizens of good standing by allowing the existence of a group that doesn't happen to agree with the dominant political ideology of those at the institution? You can argue that the group simply doesn't comply with legal requirements that that institution operates under, but that would be begging the questions since that is the very issue being debated here.

Because Hastings itself is required to not to exclude select groups of students, why is it therefore required to reject groups which themselves have membership restrictions? The Christian Legal Society is not a public institution. Hastings is.

The restrictions of the Christian Legal Society certainly have something to do with the function or purpose of that organization, don't they?

I agree with Warren about the Ugandan situation, but his reasoning is atrocious: "Since God created all, and Jesus suffered and died for all, then we are to treat all with respect." That's true, but if that implies that gays shouldn't be imprisoned in Uganda, it also applies to every real criminal, since Jesus died for them too. On those grounds, it is a Christian imperative to open the doors of every prison in the world. That seems to me a rather odd and certainly unnecessary application of the principle.

What you seem to be calling "denouncing Biblical admonitions" would appear to be the simple refusal to misapply them.

And maybe you could enlighten my readers on the way in which Christians "attack homosexuals." Disagreeing with a policy position is not "attacking homosexuals." If simple political disagreement constitutes an attack, then your statements here in your comment constitute "attacks."

If you want examples of derision and name-calling, I suggest you take a look at some of the remarks of the groups that are always denouncing "hate" and count the number of epithets per square inch in their public pronouncements.

Richard Day said...


I'm going to have to respond in pieces due to length restrictions:


We agree on what a strawman is. In my view, your numerous posting in opposition to some imagined god of diversity, supposedly worshipped by public school folks, is just that. It is certainly a misrepresentation of my position.

And we agree that the tenor of the “debate” is over the top and all too frequently prevents the parties from hearing one another.

I suppose most policies are current political ideology at heart. It is always in flux. Otherwise, why do guys like us try to influence popular opinion? It can lead to policy change.

At present, the policy at Hastings appears to be one of nondiscrimination. The policy would seem to extend to all of its student groups. That’s the policy, some folks disagree, and they’re headed to court.

I suppose there are other law schools, with other policies, for those who would prefer a different experience. But this is a public school and therefore it ought to assure that any one who attends the school gets to play. I’ve seen the same problem at elementary schools, sometimes. …kids getting excluded for not being something or other.

I, too agree with Warren. But like many beliefs of a religious nature, they are not always logical. They seem to be true to the believer. They are a matter of faith - even when we claim they are a matter of truth. So you say CLS is refusing to misapply; I say they are discriminating.

I do not think most folks - including most Christians - attack homosexuals. Far from it.

But some do. Mostly on the fringes I suspect; although it feels like a fairly broad fringe these days. Polls I’ve heard suggest a percentage of US social conservatives somewhere in the lower 20s by percentage – to whatever extent that may be a useful proxy for fundamentalism.

Perhaps there are some in America, like Uganda, who would jail homosexuals, or force them into medical facilities, or into spiritual training for religious reasons. There certainly are some who seem to perseverate on the issue. Such actions; such concentrated and persistent efforts to marginalize a group of people - I believe that is what Warren meant when he referred to un-Christian acts. …and is what I think of as an attack.

If fundamentalists justifications were all about the Bible, Fred Phelps, for example, would hold anti-shrinp rallies; anti- mastrubation rallies; anti-crop rotation rallies; anti-adultery rallies… But he doesn’t. Why is that? …and does the fact that he doesn’t give us some insight into his heart and mind?

I don’t live up to the teachings of Jesus. I don’t now anyone who does completely. But Christianity remains a positive force in many lives, especially when Jesus’s lessons of love, peace and neighborly living are made real. I am not prepared to open the doors to our prisons and I am guilty of supporting the war in Afghanastan, and so on. But I am persuaded that it would be a better world if we all loved our neighbors as ourselves. It is the greatest commandment for a reason. To claim Christianity without really trying to follow the central teachings of Jesus, seems contradictory to me. I think that is Pastor Warren’s point.

If one is looking for a justification to NOT treat others with respect, the teachings of Jesus’s don’t help. They are about love. Is love at the heart of the CLS?

“The CLS chapter says in court papers that its … members must affirm the national organization's ‘statement of faith,’ which involves ‘a shared devotion to Jesus Christ’."

Then they defined what that meant. The degree, to which the CLS followed the teachings of Jesus, is debatable.

“The statement says that ‘unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle is inconsistent' with the group's beliefs’...”

There is no word of the group expelling adulterers, or those who labor on the Sabbath.

Richard Day said...

Martin, I don’t believe a majority of Christians feel like the CLS. At least, I sure hope not. I know the great majority of our young people do not feel that way, so I suspect change is a comin’. Plenty of folks are baffled by their inability to relate to homosexuality, but that’s just because they weren’t born homosexual; just as I have no idea what the experience of motherhood feels like. I don’t know about you, but I always knew my likes and dislikes. I don’t think most homosexuals are choosing their sexual orientation any more than I did, with the possible exception of bisexuals.

So, can a public university discriminate against a student group that discriminates against gays?

Or say you might say, can a university discriminate on the basis of discrimination?

Well, I have no clue how the case is likely to turn out. But it sounds like a simple problem of authority to me. The university has it and the CLS wants it.