Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Right to Exclude

Today the Wall Street Journal published an article on a case in California where a Christian organization at a law school in San Francisco barred anyone who did not sign on to their beliefs regarding adultery, fornication, and homosexuality. The case was disputed on the issue of gay rights and the school providing funds to a group that would openly prevent a person from joining based on what beliefs they held. The school insists any organization receiving school funding should admit any student who shows interest.
The organization claims the First Amendment in being able to choose members that are committed to promoting their beliefs. Without this in place, an atheist could join and lead a Bible study, or a different case a Democrat could join the Republican group and create chaos without penalty.
On the other side, Justice John Paul Stevens says a group can hold the belief that black people are inferior, even if the members themselves are black. The organization can exist, but the issue is the school funding such an organization. It would be discrimination to bar people for that reason.
What's the solution to this problem?
When I was serving as a campus minister in Tyler, TX two years ago I was faced with a similar problem and spent about three seconds thinking about its solution. A Muslim man came to our lunches every week and spent the whole two hours talking and would even stay afterwards to help clean. One day he came to me and asked about the leadership team and how he could join, which creates a dilemma. The man wants to help and be more involved, but he lacks fundamental beliefs that match with the mission and drive of the ministry. Of course the man could come to any of the events, Bible studies and worship included, but he could not serve as a leader in the ministry where he would teach and lead others. Does this mean I required every leader in the ministry to agree with me? No. But they did have to sign a form agreeing to a few doctrinal points, making it clear to me they (at least in confessing) hold certain beliefs.
But was this discrimination?
No. I wouldn't expect a Muslim group to allow me to teach or lead within a mosque. If I wanted to be an Imam without relinquishing the doctrine of the Incarnation, there would be problems. I would expect no less. Most churches have a ceremony where a person confesses and show their agreement with the beliefs of that church. Does the same apply to campus organizations?
But what about homosexuality? Is this a breach of gay rights? Is it discrimination to exclude someone, not based on their sexual orientation, but on their belief about a sexual orientation?
The move by Justice Stevens is to turn it to race. What if a group had a racist belief and required its members to hold that view? It is a belief, and it is discriminatory. But would that work the same with homosexuality? No. Homosexuality, adultery, and fornication are all behaviors and the group took a moral position on those issues. Race, on the other hand, is not a behavior but an intrinsic attribute. I make a distinction between the two. A belief is one thing, the genes a person inherits from their parents is another.
Turning it around, could a person who views homosexuality as immoral join a LGBT group and become a leader?
I'll take the issue more broadly though. Can a group exclude people based on their beliefs? Yes. Discrimination based on race, gender, or ethnicity is a separate case.

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