Is Christianity still legal in America?
Posted by ssbg on August 18, 2006
Quin Hillyer, The Examiner
Aug 18, 2006
WASHINGTON – A case from Illinois now winding its way through the federal courts tests the dubious proposition that Christianity and equal opportunity are in conflict. Christianity is winning for now, but federal courts have done weird things, so the case bears watching.
The controversy arose at the Southern Illinois University School of Law when in 2004 a campus chapter of the Christian Legal Society was one of 17 student organizations afforded official recognition by the school.
Recognition meant access to the college’s bulletin board and electronic Listserve and the ability to reserve university facilities for club meetings.
Among the other recognized groups were several that are intrinsically restrictive or exclusive, including the Black Law Student Association, the Women’s Law Forum, and the Lesbian and Gay Law Students and Supporters. But only the CLS lost its recognition after an outside complaint alleging violation of various campus nondiscrimination policies.
As described by U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Sykes, “CLS welcomes anyone to its meetings, but voting members and officers of the organization must subscribe to [a specific] statement of faith, meaning, among other things, that they must not engage in or approve of fornication, adultery, or homosexual conduct; or, having done so, must repent of that conduct … CLS also told SIU that a person ‘who may have engaged in homosexual conduct in the past but has repented of that conduct, or who has homosexual inclinations but does not engage in or affirm homosexual conduct, would not be prevented from serving as an officer or member.’ ”
Never mind that the group applied the same restrictions to heterosexual intercourse: CLS was denied use of school bulletin boards and classrooms for private club meetings because, SIU said, CLS violated school prohibitions against discrimination based on (among other categories) “sexual orientation.”
The CLS explanation that its voting membership was restricted based not upon orientation but conduct fell on deaf ears, as did the pertinent point that “fornicators” and active homosexuals remained perfectly free to attend CLS meetings and participate in all ways but voting.
CLS, claiming that SIU had violated CLS’ First Amendment right to expressive association, free speech and free exercise of religion, asked a federal district court to intervene and issue an injunction forcing SIU to provide recognition (and its privileges) to the group pending a full airing of the case. The district court refused. But a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit voted 2-1 July 10 to grant the injunction, reasoning quite cogently that “the loss of First Amendment freedoms is presumed to constitute an irreparable injury for which money damages are not adequate, and injunctions protecting First Amendment freedoms are always in the public interest.”
CLS may still ultimately lose the case, but for now it regained recognition and use of SIU facilities.
Writing for the court, Judge Sykes — reportedly on a White House list of potential future Supreme Court nominees — observed:
“CLS is a faith-based organization. One of its beliefs is that sexual conduct outside of traditional marriage is immoral. It would be difficult for CLS to sincerely and effectively convey a message of disapproval of certain types of conduct if, at the same time, it must accept members who engage in that conduct. CLS’ beliefs about sexual morality are among its defining values; forcing it to accept as members those who engage in or approve of homosexual conduct would cause the group as it currently identifies itself to cease to exist. We have no difficulty concluding that SIU’s application of its nondiscrimination policies in this way burdens CLS’ ability to express its ideas.”
Of course, that which is commonsensical is not necessarily that which is constitutional. The law, in all its majesty and occasional folly, involves more than a mere application of formal logic and supposedly neutral principles of fairness. State and federal law and constitutions, especially as expounded through decades (or centuries) of court precedents, determine what is and isn’t allowable. Fortunately, Sykes cited more than ample precedent. She was particularly effective in noting that the remarkably similar 1972 case of Healy v. James had reaffirmed a 1960 case’s holding that “the vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools.”
Official ostracism from the law school should not be a cross that CLS has to bear.
Examiner columnist Quin Hillyer is executive editor of The American Spectator. He can be reached at email@example.com. Examiner