Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that will attempt to resolve an apparent conflict between the issue of “diversity” and the First Amendment right of “freedom of association”. To me, at least, the facts are fascinating.
The University of California’s Hastings College of Law has a diversity policy that,
student groups seeking benefits such as school funding or preferred access to meeting rooms admit any interested student.
One such student group is the Christian Legal Society. Although this group allows anyone to attend its meetings, in order to become a member of the group, one must sign a “statement of faith” agreeing that he or she will not engage in pre-marital sex, adultery or homosexual conduct.
Hastings determined that the Christian Legal Society’s policy violated the school’s diversity policy, and thus denied the Society the right to school funding, and, preferred access to meeting rooms. The Society filed suit in the Federal District Court claiming that its First Amendment right to freedom of association was being abridged by the school’s policy. Both the Federal District Court and the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in favor of the law school, and the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
In his oral argument on behalf of the Society, Michael W. McConnell, stated,
“If Hastings is correct, a student who does not even believe in the Bible is entitled to demand to lead a Christian Bible study,” … [w]hile the school could bar discrimination based on “status”—such as race—it could not stop a student group from limiting membership to those who pledge fealty to its beliefs…
And, in response to an analogy given by Justice Stevens, that demonstrated the belief that the school’s policy was acceptable, Mr. McConnell pointed out that, should the school’s policy be upheld,
if, for example, there is an NAACP chapter, it would have to allow a racist skinhead to sit in on its planning meetings.
Meanwhile, Justice Scalia found the concept of allowing Republicans to join the school’s Democratic club, perhaps solely for the purpose of disruption, “weird”.
On the other hand, Justice Sotomayor stated that the Society wasn’t being banned from the school altogether, but could, for example, hold their meetings in the cafeteria. Personally, I think that argument dodges an important constitutional issue, but, it is certainly a viable position.
The Court’s opinion should be an interesting read regardless of the ultimate decision, so, I will keep you posted.