Friday, April 16, 2010

Shark in San Diego

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of making a quick visit to the University of San Diego Law School to engage in a debate on the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, set for argument before the United States Supreme Court on Monday. The event was made possible by a grant from the Templeton Foundation and sponsored by the USD chapters of the Federalist Society, Christian Legal Society and PrideLaw.

I was on the ground for less than 24 hours, but San Diego is beautiful (although I think I picked the one day in the last ten years when the weather in Milwaukee in April was just as nice) and the USD campus is exquisite. My opponent (Professor Shaun Martin), the moderator (Dean Michael Kelley) and the student hosts were gracious. The lunch at La Gran Terraza was very good. What about the debate?

The case involves the refusal of Hastings College of Law (a public school that is part of the University of California system) to recognize the Christian Legal Society as a student organization because, although its events are open to everyone, voting members must affirm a statement of creedal Christianity and resolve to strive to live in accordance with certain moral standards, including to refrain from sexual conduct outside of marriage between one man and one woman.

No way, says Hastings. This constitutes discrimination on the basis of religion and sexual orientation and violates the Law School's unwritten policy which requires (or, so Hastings says, although it has heretofore not insisted) that all student organizations take all comers without regard to whether those comers support the organization's beliefs or ideals. The CLS can exist. Hastings might even allow it to use University facilities. (It has said that it will but there is some dispute over whether it has kept that promise.) But it can't be a recognized student organization.

Two things are clear. The CLS has an associational right to exclude those who don't buy into its mission. Hastings has no obligation to subsidize its speech or the exercise of its associational right.

But there is a complication.

In deciding to recognize student organizations who engage in expressive conduct, Hastings has created what has come to be known as a limited purpose public forum. Case law says that, when such a forum is created, participants may not be excluded on the basis of the viewpoint expressed, including, the Supreme Court has made clear, religious viewpoints.

Hastings says that they have not engaged in viewpoint discrimination. No organization can exclude anyone. Cats must live with dogs, Democrats must admit Republicans, the Sierra Club must welcome global warming deniers and the gay & lesbian student organization must allow its message to be voted on by congregants of the Westboro Baptist Church. They say that the educational purpose of their forum requires, not only diversity among groups, but within groups.

I don't believe the latter. Hastings student groups often have charters that require voting members to adhere to the ideals of organizations. (One, La Raza, even had racial requirements.) Although the parties have stipulated that this is Hastings policy, it seems clearly to have been an expedience contrived for litigation, suggesting that it is hardly essential to the law school's educational mission.

The former is belied by the fact that the policy discriminates against groups organized to advance a particular point of view (one might call them "creedal groups"). It seems weak tea to say that Hastings permits student groups to express all manners of views but won't allow them to exercise associational freedom in the task of advancing those viewpoints.

The right of free association has been found to be implicit in, and essential to, the right to speak. The freedom of associate has also been found to include the freedom to exclude those who do not share or, in the judgment of the group, would impair the group's expressive measure. The CLS does not seek to exclude on the basis of status (they will admit gay and lesbian students who affirm their statement of beliefs) but on the basis of belief and in a way which is intended to further its expressive activities.

In the end, it seems to me that Hastings policy will burden the expression of unpopular views whose message can be silenced by the requirement that they admit into their organization those who would silence it. It will, I think, result in a more narrow than broader range of discourse. It tells religious organizations that they must become debating societies - effectively excluding them from the university's forum.

Professor Martin argued ably against this view. The one thing that he and I agreed on is this is likely a 5-4 case. You can guess who the swing vote will be.

Cross posted at the Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog

No comments: