There’s breaking news from the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a 5-4 decision has decided against the Christian Legal Society in its effort to challenge the reigning orthodoxy at Hastings Law School in California. According to the Associated Press:
An ideologically split Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law school can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that won’t let gays join.
The court turned away an appeal from the Christian Legal Society, which sued to get funding and recognition from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.
The CLS requires that voting members sign a statement of faith and regards “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” as being inconsistent with that faith.
But Hastings said no recognized campus groups may exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.
The court on a 5-4 judgment upheld the lower court rulings saying the Christian group’s First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise were not violated by the college’s decision.
“In requiring CLS — in common with all other student organizations — to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the 5-4 majority opinion for the court’s liberals and moderate Anthony Kennedy. “CLS, it bears emphasis, seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy.”
That’s correct–CLS did seek an exemption (the term “preferential” is simply pejorative) from the school’s policy, based on the organization’s unquestionably religious character and convictions. Such exemptions have, in the past, been routinely granted in various settings because the United States has typically recognized the unique place of religion in society. It has long been recognized that for the state to demand that people violate their religion-based beliefs requires an extraordinarily high standard. For instance, churches are routinely exempt from laws that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, because it is seen as a violation of conscience to require an organization that believes homosexual conduct to be wrong to hire someone engaged in exactly that conduct.
What Ginsburg and her colleagues are saying is that now, in order to receive benefits routinely conferred on other groups, religious organizations must knuckle under to the the prevailing state orthodoxy regarding homosexuality. The potential pernicious effect of this ruling is enormous–you can look for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, for example, to take this and run with it in their effort to have tax exemptions denied churches. You can also look for the religious left to use this as a way of advancing their agenda, as the Rev. Barry Lynn says in an e-mail that just came to me:
Americans United for Separation of Church and State praised today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding a policy at Hastings College of the Law that prohibits school-subsidized student clubs from engaging in religious discrimination.
“This decision is a huge step forward for fundamental fairness and equal treatment,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.
Continued Lynn, “Religious discrimination is wrong, and a public school should be able to take steps to eradicate it. Today’s court ruling makes it easier for colleges and universities to do that.”
If I read that correctly, what Lynn seems to be saying is that in his view, religious organizations must toe not just the state’s line on sexual orientation, but the United Church of Christ’s line (Lynn is a UCC minister). In other words, religious discrimination is wrong, but only when practiced by people who don’t buy into Lynn’s view of homosexuality. Discriminating against religious believers in traditional sexual ethics, on the other hand, is hunky-dory. Expect more of this–lots more–out of both the religious and secular left in the days ahead.