Saturday, April 24, 2010

Freedom of expression vs. freedom of association on college campuses

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in a battle over the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association on college campuses. Observers felt the justices were sharply divided.

The case involves the University of California's Hastings College of the Law and its policy that all campus groups must accept everyone as a member or leader. The school refused to recognize the chapter of the Christian Legal Society because it required all of its officers and voting members to subscribe to its basic Christian beliefs — a restriction that angered homosexual students. The CLS sued for recognition, along with the school funding and other benefits that accompany it.

"[The justices] realized that [the school's policy] was problematic, not only for religious groups having to accept anyone to lead their Bible studies, but for Democrats having to accept a Republican as their leader, or for an environmentalist group to have to accept someone who does not believe in global warming — that type of thing," Kim Colby, senior counsel with the Christian Legal Society, told The Associated Press.

CLS filed suit in 2004 after the group was denied recognition. A federal judge threw out the Christian group's lawsuit in 2006, claiming its First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise had not been violated, a decision that was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a two-sentence opinion in 2009.

"CLS has all of its activities entirely open to everyone," said lawyer Michael McConnell. "What it objects to is being run by non-Christians."

"To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes ... That's crazy," said Justice Antonin Scalia. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito seemed to agree that forcing groups to allow those who don't share similar beliefs was unfair to the organizations. But Justice John Paul Stevens and Justice Sonia Sotomayor inferred an opposing view with specific examples of their own that implied potential discrimination against entire racial groups or genders. Justice Anthony Kennedy wondered why people that don't agree with a group's core beliefs would ever want to belong to it. The court is expected to rule early this summer on the case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, 08-1371. [,, The Associated Press]

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