Lead Them Home explicitly refuses to get involved in any political matters, however we often serve organizations that are subject to political or legal decisions. That is why I watched carefully for the Supreme Court decision involving Christian Legal Society at University of California Hastings College of Law. On June 28, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that Christian Legal Society must follow the college’s “all comers” policy which specifically requires ALL student groups to open ALL leadership positions to ALL students. Hearing this on the radio while on vacation, I was initially concerned about how this might impact those we serve.
Upon return, however, I read the Supreme Court decision in full and was quickly relieved that this opinion is quite limited. Christianity Today notes that this decision is unlikely to affect any other student group at any other university because no other university is known to have a similar “all comers” policy in regard to leadership. There is a very good reason why Hastings policy is so unique: what gay organization would want an evangelical as its president? Not many I suspect. Similarly, a College Democrats of America would never want a Republican to lead their funding campaign.
While this ruling does open the door for Christian student organizations to lose their identity, this same risk applies to all student organizations. In other words, the Hastings policy is really bad for everyone. The Supreme Court has sent this case back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to address Christian Legal Society’s claim that the “all comers” policy has been “selectively enforced.”
Blogger Benson Hines notes that it is the misapplication of the Supreme Court ruling that represents the greatest risk to evangelical student organizations. Indeed, there are many cases against Christian student organizations that never reach the Supreme Court because they are dismissed based on existing case law at lower courts. However, the process for such cases to be dismissed (for the misapplication to be ruled and settled) can be long and costly.
Additionally, private universities are allowed to define their student group policies with greater freedom. Earlier this year, the Codes and Judicial Committee of the University Assembly at Cornell University sought to pass a broad anti-discriminatory policy that would particularly target religious student groups. The Cornell Sun reports that this committee failed to respond to President David J. Skorton’s request for a footnote protecting “free speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion.”
The Student Assembly separately passed Resolution 44 denying funding to organizations that discriminate based on gender and sexual identity. President Skorton attempted to balance this decision by saying that such organizations that do discriminate will still be recognized and “receive support” (it is unclear from reports what other support is available).
Other students proposed Resolution 62 – a “freedoms clause” – charging that Resolution 44 violated First Amendment Rights. Ultimately, a compromise Resolution 75 limited the applicability of the original Resolution 44 language to those organizations that receive funding specifically from the “Student Activity Fee.” Thus, in line with President Skorton’s attempts to balance rights, groups that violate the original Resolution 44 language may still receive funding from other university sources and retain their recognition on campus.
While a compromise was ultimately reached in this case at Cornell, I worry about the impact these cases have on our evangelistic effectiveness on college campuses. In this Cornell case, I personally know a couple of Christian leaders who have shepherded a witness of Christ’s love quite admirably throughout this process. If only folks on “both sides” would respectfully recognize that there are deeply held convictions and beliefs regarding the issue of homosexuality (as well as other similarly divisive issues), there would be the potential for peaceful coexistence – and even the possibility for collaboration.
FOOTNOTE: Lead Them Home’s recent evangelical-LGBT+ “Crossing the Divide” dialogue at Wheaton College (Norton, MA) is an example of what can be accomplished when both sides recognize the validity of the other to exist in accordance with their own policies. This peacemaker approach is a way to foster dialogue around the differences while maintaining protection of organizational leadership and beliefs for all groups. To learn more about Lead Them Home’s peacemaker series, contact us.