Home > Bruce S. Ticker, First Amendment~Religion > ‘Right’ to discriminate on campus is dubious at best

‘Right’ to discriminate on campus is dubious at best

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA– So, a religious group for aspiring attorneys claims the right to discriminate. A law school refuses to accept the organization if it will not accept gays and other so-called heathens. The victims of this group’s discriminatory policies are unlikely to seek membership in this organization.

There is a joke in here somewhere. Correction: We can assemble a rollicking monologue out of this that writes itself. It is nonetheless a grave matter when an organization discriminates against any group since Jews and others could ultimately be affected.

In San Francisco, a public law school withdrew recognition of a chapter of the Christian Legal Society as a school organization because of its refusal to comply with school policy barring discrimination against religion, sexual orientation and related grounds.

If the society complies, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco – part of the University of California – would allow it to use meeting space, bulletin boards and other school services as it does for 60 existing student groups.

However, the society will only permit students to become voting members or assume leadership positions if they affirm the group’s orthodox Christian beliefs and disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle,” according to The New York Times. That would include “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The society sued for its right to discriminate and was rebuffed last March by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. On Monday, Dec. 7, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the society’s appeal.

Filing a lawsuit is an instinctive action for an attorney, one would think. Actually, a responsible attorney would not attempt to violate the policies of its host to begin with.

Ironic that an anti-gay group would organize in America’s homosexual capital. Then again, these law students will be challenged by a test of temptation to rival their bar exams.

Obviously, the very people who are not welcome by the society would have no perceptible reason to join, so there does not seem to be any likely possibility of a problem.

There is the principle, of course. It is a public university, and therefore the school leadership cannot permit discrimination. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn put it this way: “Groups that wish to engage in discrimination should not expect public subsidies.”

Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed a brief in support of the law school’s case.

Especially, any law school student who would join a discriminatory organization is making a categorical argument for why they should pursue another line of work.

The legal system was created to allow the pursuit of justice on the basis of the law and the facts of a given case. The Christian Legal Society bases its policies on its interpretation of the Bible. Its beliefs are far removed from more liberal Christian denominations.

The pursuit of justice must inherently be flexible. An attorney, like any professional, must be imaginative and aggressive, and not let an unconfirmed philosophy get in the way of a good case.

To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I would not hire an attorney who would join an organization like the Christian Legal Society.

“Christian” lawyers have their employment opportunities. Some will get jobs with conservative organizations and Republican politicians. They will win some religious-oriented cases; there are times that they have been in the right. The Bush administration’s Department of Justice was filled with “Christian” lawyers.

Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are among the “Christian” lawyers named to the U.S. Supreme Court by recent Republican presidents. Many from this mold were recommended and/or confirmed to lower court judgeships.

That does not make them quality attorneys.

The Christian Legal Society is no poor victim. This is the second time that one of its chapters filed legal action to challenge their college host’s policies. Their pockets must be fairly deep if they can afford to file lawsuits.

Law schools are supposedly training grounds for men and women to play by the rules. An organization that discriminates does not play by the rules. That makes them dangerous.


Ticker is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia

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