Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez - A Layman's Question of the Supreme Court's Decision

I'm not a lawyer so I don't feel qualified to comment on the merits of the recent Supreme Court decision which would force student groups to allow outsiders who disagree with their beliefs to become leaders and voting members.  This has been termed an "accept-all-comers" policy.  I will offer my biggest concern. 

What's to prevent a group from being joined by a majority of students who disagree with the beliefs and then voting in a majority of those of the dissenting viewpoint who could then change the very nature of the organization to become the very antithesis of the purpose of it's original formation?  Justice Alito expresses this very concern in his dissent.  It seems the court says a group may impose membership requirements “designed to ensure that students join because of their commitment to a group’s vitality, not its demise.”  Alito's comments after this are spot on:
"With this concession, the Court tacitly recognizes that Hastings does not really have an accept-all-comers policy—it has an accept-some-dissident-comers policy—and the line between members who merely seek to change a group’s message (who apparently must be admitted) and those who seek a group’s 'demise' (who may be kept out) is hopelessly vague."
"Here is an example. Not all Christian denominations agree with CLS’s views on sexual morality and other matters. During a recent year, CLS had seven members.Suppose that 10 students who are members of denominations that disagree with CLS decided that CLS was misrepresenting true Christian doctrine. Suppose that these students joined CLS, elected officers who shared their views, ended the group’s affiliation with the national organization, and changed the group’s message. The new leadership would likely proclaim that the group was “vital” but rectified, while CLS, I assume, would take the view that the old group had suffered its 'demise.'  Whether a change represents reform or transformation may depend very much on the eye of the beholder." (35-36)
Alito ends his dissent with this:
"Even if the United States is the only Nation that shares this commitment to the same extent, I would not change our law to conform to the international norm. I fear that the Court’s decision marks a turn in that direction. Even those who find CLS’s views objectionable should be concerned about the way the group has been treated—by Hastings, the Court of Appeals, and now this Court. I can only hope that this decision will turn out to be an aberration." (37)
My vote is with Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Roberts.  But alas, four votes wasn't enough and my vote doesn't count.  You can find the compete opinion here.  The Christian Legal Society press release is here.  The transcript of the oral argument given on April 19, 2010 can be found here.

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