If You Want Government Funding, You Cannot Discriminate March 27, 2009

If You Want Government Funding, You Cannot Discriminate

This doesn’t seem like it should be much of an argument. If your campus group — atheist, religious, whatever — receives funding from your public school via activities fees, then you cannot ban certain people from joining the group. If you want to ban people, then you won’t be recognized as an official campus organization.

Hastings College of Law in San Francisco is home to a (currently unofficial) chapter of the Christian Legal Society. That group wanted access to student activity fees. At the same time, they won’t allow non-Christians and gay students to join (and, thus, become voting members of the group). So the school won’t recognize them.

As you can guess, a lawsuit was filed. The CLS said “its religious liberty is being violated by the [nondiscrimination] requirement.”

“So they [the CLS] applied for recognition and Hastings said [essentially], sorry, you can’t be recognized because your membership requirements and leadership requirements violate our non-discrimination policy. So, requiring your members to believe in Jesus Christ and telling them that they can’t engage in sex outside of marriage, those are discriminatory policies, and we don’t have a place for you here,” [CLS attorney Tim] Tracey explains.

Recently, a ruling came down from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It’s a paragraph long (PDF) and it makes complete sense:

The parties stipulate that Hastings imposes an open membership rule on all student groups — all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group. The conditions on recognition are therefore viewpoint neutral and reasonable.

In short(er), if the Christians want to discriminate, they won’t be doing it as a Hastings organization. They’ll just be doing it as a bunch of ignorant/religious law students.

Rob Boston of Americans United puts the case in context:

Had this group been privately funded, it could discriminate all it wanted. But this organization sought funds drawn from a large pool of people, fees that are usually mandatory. In that respect, the money is akin to taxation. The government entity collecting and dispersing the funds has the right — and some might even say an obligation — to ensure that none of the money ends up subsidizing discrimination…

It’s also worth pointing that all groups are being treated equally. I don’t know if there is “Secular Humanists of Hastings Law School” group, but if there is, and if it is receiving activity fees, it must allow Christians and other religious students to join. And that’s as it should be.

I don’t know why the Christians would want to kick out those who disagree. (And I wonder how many non-Christian, gay students would want to join a Christian Legal Society in the first place.)

Some of the best conversations I had in my college atheist group were with Christians who came to our meetings (some joined and paid dues, though not many). It’s nice to bounce ideas off of each other and have someone who won’t always agree with you.

What does the CLS accomplish by carving out a Christian-only club?

(via The Wall of Separation)

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  • Jason Peper

    depending on how extreme this groups are, I might want to join and take over (if I have enough accomplices 😉 ) in hope to either calm or shut them down.

    But then, this is neither friendly nor helpful. So I won’t want to join.

  • When I was in college, the Black Student Union could only be part of the student government as long as they technically allowed anyone to join. But when we tried to start a White Straight Christian Student Union, we were not allowed. Never mind that the members already signed up for the group included women, gay people, people of non-white races, a Jewish person, a pagan, an atheist…
    We wanted to point out the hypocrisy of allowing a discriminatory group to receive student government funds when an inclusive social group that just happened to imply discrimination in its name were not allowed to become a school-sponsored organization. I’m not surprised that we failed, but I don’t think we even got our point across which is the bigger shame.

  • I support the right of “viewpoint-based” clubs to discriminate w.r.t. membership — otherwise, I can imagine a club being subject to hostile takeover. All you have to do is pack a meeting and vote to replace the executive with your own people, who then dissolve the club, re-write the mission statement, etc.

    But it’s still true that such a club shouldn’t receive public funds. If you want to play D&D or go rock-climbing, fine: here’s some money. But if you want to promote your politics or religion, do it on your own dime, or ask for support from sympathetic outside entities.

  • It was funny seeing how OneNewsNow tried to spin this story yesterday. (Don’t ask me how I ended up on their e-mail list). They were crying about their constitutional rights and how the courts have “dealt yet another blow to religion.” Thankfully every single comment on the page said what Americans United said: Discrimination = no funds. Its the same way the Supreme Court ruled in the Boy Scout case.

  • Epistaxis

    There was a to-do like this at my undergrad, except that the university quickly surrendered. What was really weird was the Christian group’s rationale: they didn’t want gays or non-Christians to infiltrate their ranks and become the leaders of their (democratic) organization.

  • Curtis

    There is a difference between discriminate (To make a clear, sensible distinction; distinguish) and prejudice (To make distinctions on the basis of class or category without regard to individual merit). If I were to start a model airplane club it would right to discriminate out people who are interested in fishing not model airplanes. (The funds for the group should go to making planes not fishing lures.) It would be wrong to be prejudiced against Christians. (Religion is irrelevant for model airplanes.)

    Christian groups should discriminate out atheists, Jews and Muslims. They have no business being in a Christian group. Atheist groups should discriminate out Christians. Of course, inviting in opposing view points makes sense but non-Christians should not get to determine what a Christian group does.

  • another Mike

    Because I graduated from Hastings in 1970, this post grabbed my attention right away. Hastings is a public school, one of four University of California law schools (the others at UC Davis, Berkely, and UCLA). So allowing funding for a religionist organization would have been clearly wrong at Hastings. I wonder if it would make any difference if the law school involved were a private one that received some sort of State of Federal funding? What if they had openly encouraged atheist/agnostic/humanist participation? Any thoughts?

  • Indigo

    @ Curtis:
    The point is not that they leave people out. The point is that they want to leave people out when the organisation that funds them clearly states “no funding unless everybody’s allowed to join” and are now getting angry when the money (part of which comes from the people they want to exclude) has stopped flowing.

  • Curtis

    Indigo – I understand the rule. I recommend civil disobedience against stupid rules.

    If I were part of this defunded Christian group, I would get a group of 100 Christians to go the election meeting of a club that opposed their funding. We would look and act conspicuously Christian (bibles, crosses, etc.) We would nominate Christians to all the offices of the club. Then we would walk out just as the voting for officers started. If this did not cause a change in understanding, we would repeat and actually do a hostile take over of another club that opposed our funding. Lather, rinse and repeat until we took over every club at the university.

    Discrimination is good. Bigotry is bad.

  • Richard Wade

    Curtis, you’re still missing the point. The student activities fees are mandatory. You have to pay them to be a student at the college. It is not fair to be forced to contribute money, some of which will go to a school club of which you cannot be a member. The idea of disrupting college clubs by crashing their voting meetings is childish and pointless, and would lead to having no groups at all. That would make campus life less rewarding and interesting. If a group wants to exclude people they don’t like, fine, but they have no right to funds that are paid in part by those excluded people.

    I find it amazing that those dorks in the CLS are law students. Did they really think that dumbass lawsuit would fly?

  • Curtis


    I understand your point but you are missing mine.

    Let’s suppose that we are members of a Science Club. Once a year, we invite a speaker to give a science lecture. Tonight we are voting on which scientist to invite. We are a planning to choose between Richard Dawkins, James Watson or Steven Hawkings. Unbeknownst to us, 200 creationists have decided to attend our meeting and outvote us and choose a Creation Scientist. If we cannot discriminate against them, instead of Dawkins, we will get Ray Comfort.

    I repeat – discrimination is good.

  • EatenByChutulu

    I’ve never actually joined student politics, but my brother is heavily involved in it & there are rules to meetings and such (such as how many elected officers -not just the general club members- are present to vote on an issue, etc). You don’t necessarily have to discriminate to have your meetings not taken over. However, perhaps it would be a good idea to sign a sort of “good faith” clause that basically says you’re joining for debate and mutually enlightening discussion, with a few basic rules. I know some of the clubs at my local university also have rules about how often you have to participate in major club activities to be a member or a possible candidate for elections. This would definitely weed out club crashers I would think, since it requires time and effort.

  • This is similar in principle to what happened in the UK a while back regarding adoption agencies. A new anti-discrimination law made it illegal to deny services to homosexual couples, but the Catholic adoption agencies wanted exemption. They tried (unsuccessfully) to reserve the right to refuse their service to any homosexual couple who wanted to adopt a child.

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