Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I remember quite some time ago, probably around my sophomore year of high school, when the topic in debate was something to the effect of: what is more important, society's goal of eliminating discrimination or the right of people to engage in exclusive, voluntary organizations.

Basically, what matters more: accepting everyone or being able to associate with like-minded people?

Last week, MPR was asking whether or not evangelicals should be able to distribute religious literature preaching against homosexuality at a GLBT Pride festival. Then, on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. There were some funny legal stipulations going on in that case that really dictated the result, but it got me thinking a lot about the question. Basically, the Christian Legal Society (CLS) was told they couldn't get official school recognition (and thereby money and access to campus resources) because they required people to sign a statement of faith and because they didn't want their members to be openly engaged in immoral behavior, including specifically, same-sex relationships. The school apparently has a policy of non-discrimination for their groups. Basically, CLS had to accept "all-comers", that is, anyone who wanted to be a part of the group.

[I do on some level question whether CLS really violates that all-comers requirement with their position. I mean, they'll take all-comers, so long as those individuals are willing to sign up for the requirements... and since the requirements are issues of free will (people can choose whether or not to openly engage in same sex relationships) and not issues of unchangeable status (if the group said "we'll accept all-comers, so long as they're white, that would obviously be beyond the individual's control), maybe they aren't really violating an all-comers policy?] The Supreme Court narrowly said they were violating the policy, and therefore the school could choose not to support CLS.

Which really leads me back to that ultimate question: what's more important? Eliminating discrimination or our right to freely associate? Does the right of free association mean the school should support CLS, even if they're discriminating? How far does that go? Should the large group of people interested in gathering at a GLBT pride festival be able to exclude dissenting viewpoints from their event? Does it matter if it's on public or private grounds? These are big issues. And kind of fun to think about... So, how do you come out on the issue?

Well they come and pull me from my house
And they drag my body through the streets


Durham said...

It is an interesting question, and much harder to answer than I first thought, being the devil is in the details. As I general rule I believe individuals and groups be able associate, or not associate with whom ever they wish. It is official government entities which may not discriminate in any fashion. Indeed with school groups this does become an issue. Is the school merely a venue for the group, or is the school endorsing each group that uses it as a venue? I personally think it is only a venue, and the schools only responsibility is to ensure security at whatever level it generally provides. I see the school as a meeting place for school groups much like I see the Radisson as a venue for the Rotary club.

Sam said...

But they are still very free to associate as a group, they just can't use the money collected by students for organizations unless all students are welcome to be a part of an organization. A homosexual student shouldn't have to pay (in part) for a group he is not allowed to join. And you/they can make the argument all you want about the individual being allowed due to free will to not engage in same sex relationships but that is a pretty ridiculous contingency for their membership. Kind of like having the African Americans in the south pass a literacy test prior to voting. Were all members required to sign something saying they would not engage in pre-marital relations?

Matthew B. Novak said...

Yes, I think they were required to sign a statement. Personally, I
think that kind of silly. As Justice Kennedy said well in his concurrence, "The era of loyalty oaths is behind us."

I wonder though about students supporting a group that they disagree with or "can't be a part of" (and we should note that CLS never said homosexuals couldn't be a part of the group, they said people living openly in same-sex relationships couldn't be a part of the group.).

The school in this case, for example, supported both pro-life and pro-choice student groups. Democrats and Republicans. They supported a wide number of cultural-identity based groups, including La Razza which limited voting rights to students of Razza background. (See Alito's concurrence for a lot more examples).

It seems like students are routinely paying for organizations that they don't agree with or that the student wouldn't or can't be a part of. And the amount of money each student is putting in (and the amount of money each group got in this case) isn't very much. The bigger issue was access to campus resources like rooms for meetings and advertising sources.

Then again, when the issue of forcing people to pay for something they disagreed with came up in a different context - specifically I'm thinking of the abortion element of the health care debate our country just had - I did say that making people pay for abortion was going too far. I can certainly distinguish the two... (abortion is a direct service, student organizations are only associative groups)... but still, it's worth pointing out that the tension has been there in other areas. I'd certainly be willing to consider a balance that denies groups like CLS money (or groups like La Razza) but still provides them with access to common resources.

Amanda said...

Matt, your primary question aside, I have to admit that I am disappointed to see you post the following words "since the requirements are issues of free will (people can choose whether or not to openly engage in same sex relationships) and not issues of unchangeable status (if the group said "we'll accept all-comers, so long as they're white, that would obviously be beyond the individual's control)." Casting sexuality as an issue of choice and race as "unchangeable status" is an absolutist, over-simplification of the complex nature of identity with regard to both sexuality and race. It ignores the wealth of research and wisdom on issues of identity in the social science literature regarding both individual factors as well as interactive social forces.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Amanda -

I in no way mean to "Cast sexuality as an issue of choice."

I'm merely drawing a distinction between openly being in a relationship and not.

Just because you're heterosexual doesn't mean you're necessarily in a heterosexual relationship, and just because you're homosexual doesn't mean you're in a same-sex relationship.

If a group formed dedicated to support of the bachelor/bachelorette lifestyle it might make sense for that group to require it's members not to be openly engaged in a romantic relationship. Any member who wanted to participate could willingly choose to not be in a relationship.

That's the choice I'm talking about - being in a relationship. Not sexuality.

I can't be more clear: I do not think a person's sexuality is in any way a choice.

Beau said...

This may have been the best debate topic during the late 90's, because I didn't know ahead of time what side I was on (unlike the capital punishment topic--blech). And I still don't. There are so many factors involved in each individual case that it's hard to create a blanket value system around the questions.

Anyway, I have nothing to add. Just propping up your comment totals for your self esteem.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Sam -

I re-read your question about the signing of a statement, and I think you were asking whether ALL members were required to not have sex outside of marriage or just the homosexual individuals. If that's what you were asking, yes, all the members had to take that pledge. It wasn't targeted at same-sex relationships, it was targeted at extra-marital relationships.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Beau -

Oh come on, you totally should have more insight to offer. You debated this exact issue for like 2 months! (10 years ago...). It was a great topic.

Do you remember any of our others? There was one about parents invading kids' privacy, but I don't really remember too much else.

Beau said...

Here you go: http://www.nflonline.org/StudentResources/PastLincolnDouglasTopics

Since it was my first debate topic, I don't think my arguments at the time were all that deep. All I remember is the classic, "Should boys be allowed in Girl Scouts" argument that got very tired rather quickly.

Beau said...

In fact, both topics our senior year were a pile of suck. Too bad we didn't get that Jan/Feb topic for the regular season. Though, I am sure it's the topic I debated while going 6-1 at sections (and still missed going to state!).

Jeff said...

Yeah, I touched on it briefly in a recent blog post and I really have to leave it to the experts. I tend to think that applying a non-discrimination policy to student groups is foolish and that student groups should be allowed to admit and reject whoever they want. But then there's the question of whether the school can give money on whatever basis it pleases. Do students have a "right" to government money?

To me, I wonder if Hastings is engaging in viewpoint discrimination here. They're offering money to all student groups, but refusing it to one group based on their views on homosexuality. I'm not sure it's enough for the Court to rule in CLS' favor, but I do think it's bad policy on Hastings' part.


A 'what matters most question' begs
the question.
Comparisons are odious because comparisons are based on judgments,
and judgments were pretty much down
graded during the early days of creation with that tree of the knowledge of good and evil scenario

Obviously a nation cannot have a Supreme Court without subscribing to judgments, but by now it must be obvious to every internal monologue that our Supreme Court is the epitome of a necessary evil.

Our own inability to eschew judging in our daily thinking violates the supremely wise advice given to finite beings to 'lean not unto thine own understanding' -
and so it goes (right to the Vonnegut).

The query posited in your post, like academic debating is best answered by the superior debating team, or as in court by the superior attorney team, or as in church by the superior eclesiastical team etc ad infintum. ( Which i theorize must be where the finite encounters the infinite.)

Blog McJiggy said...

Basically, what matters more: accepting everyone or being able to associate with like-minded people? To answer your question, I'll ask a question; does it matter at all?

For example, are you a Christian? Do you hang out with only Christians? Does every Christian out there believe exactly everything the Bible says?

If you are heterosexual do you have any homosexual friends? If your answer is no, can you be sure? Maybe your best friend is in the closet! Or maybe your daughter is a lesbian and you don't know it!

The truth of the situation is it does mater, because people feel like they are on the path of righteousness when they deny a home loan for some one who is gay, or black, or runs an adult toy store business. Violence happens all the time based on this righteous path. If no one cared about homosexuality or the color of someone else's skin, or religious beliefs huge amounts of resources wouldn't be wasted!