Appealing discrimination

Appealing discrimination

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This week, the U. S. Supreme Court said it would hear arguments in a case in which a lower court ruled a school could refrain from officially recognizing or funding a religious student group that bars gays and lesbians.

The case involves the Christian Legal Society at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. The group requires its members to sign a statement of faith, which states that a person who “advocates or unrepentantly engages in sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman” can’t become a member or participate in policy setting. (Sexually active unmarried heteros and atheists aren’t welcome here either.)

The college, which has an antidiscrimination policy covering sexual orientation and religion, denied the group official status, including meeting space and funding from student activities fees.

When the group sued, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found in favor of the university.

This appellate-court finding contradicts a ruling made by the 7th Circuit in a similar case at Southern Illinois University — likely a main reason the court decided to hear the case.

For the school, the question is whether it can require student groups to comply with its nondiscrimination policies. If the Supreme Court rules the university must give space and funding to a student group that doesn’t adhere to its policies, the question becomes, can it enforce the policies at all and in what manner?

For the university and gay-rights activists, it’s disappointing the court would hear the case at all. However, as the two circuit courts gave contradictory rulings, it seems necessary that the high court give a clear ruling. Considering the current justices, the outcome is uncertain.

For Philadelphians, the case strikes a nerve, as it echoes the current suits between the City and the Boy Scouts. At the heart of the debates is this: Does a group, which has the right to discriminate and determine its own members, deserve public funding/perks/benefits in a municipality or entity that expressly forbids the type of discrimination the group practices?

The easy answer would be, of course not. But would stricter compliance with nondiscrimination policies force government to be less friendly to groups that are LGBT allies? And if that is the case, shouldn’t government be neutral regardless?

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