No Room in the Public Square
Does our culture value inclusiveness over religious freedom? Recent court cases provide some clues.
If you have heard me on BreakPoint before, you know that I am not an alarmist. While I am concerned about the culture and the Church’s place within it, I don’t sound the alarm after every setback.
Still, I am concerned about the increasingly small space to which our culture is seeking to confine the practice of our faith. We are heading in the direction of making faith a purely private matter, one that is not allowed to intrude in any public square or discussion. Recent cases making their way through the courts illustrate this direction.
The first story originates in San Francisco. On December 7, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving the Christian Legal Society and the University of California-Hastings Law School. The local chapter’s recognition and funding were revoked after the CLS added a provision to its statement of faith which voting members must affirm. That provision stated that “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle is inconsistent with” affirmation of the statement of faith.
Although the language includes all sex outside of marriage, school officials decided that the provision discriminated against gay students and, thus, violated the school’s non-discrimination policies. It didn’t matter that all Hastings students were welcome to attend and participate in the organization’s meetings.
The CLS sued the school, and in March the Ninth Circuit ruled that Hastings could require student groups to “accept all comers as members, even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group.”
The precedent for this ruling was a 2008 opinion by the same Ninth Circuit, Truth v. Kent School District, involving a Bible club in Kent Washington. There, the application for official recognition was rejected because voting membership was limited to those who affirmed biblical inerrancy and pledged to live in accordance with Christian teachings.
In ruling in favor of the school district, the Ninth Circuit essentially said that if you want to be officially recognized, you must undermine your religious mission.
You don’t have to be an alarmist to wonder if such a requirement would be imposed on any other kind of group.
It’s difficult to reconcile these rulings with the Supreme Court’s decision in Rosenberg v. Rector. There, the court ruled that the University of Virginia could not deny funding to a Christian publication while providing it to other student publications. This denial was a form of “viewpoint discrimination” that violated freedom of speech.
The Los Angeles Times editorialized that something similar is at work here. The CLS is concerned with a person’s beliefs and whether they live by them, not who they are. Yet 14 years after Rosenberg, people are still singling out Christian groups for exclusion.
Well, we’ll see what the Supreme Court has to say because they’re up next.
In the end, groups like the Christian Legal Society aren’t seeking to change school policies—they simply want to identify themselves publicly as Christians in the same way that members of other groups can publicly identify themselves.
This apparently is too much for a culture that, having freed one group from a closet, now seeks to stuff Christians into it.
Further Reading and Information
Christian Legal Society vs. UC Hastings School of the Law
Los Angeles Times | December 15, 2009
Birds of a Doctrinal Feather
Terry Mattingly | GetReligion | December 10, 2009