Mar 5, 2010

"Taxpayer" Money and Christian Legal Society Chapters

This past weekend, Parade magazine did a small feature on the CLS v. Martinez case that will be heard by the Supreme Court on April 19. I've discussed the case before, but it essentially involves the question whether the Constitution permits a public law school to exclude a religious student organization from a forum for speech solely because the group requires its officers and voting members to share its core religious commitments. (For the Petitioner's Brief, go here).

Interestingly, the otherwise straightforward piece, that quotes advocates on both sides of the issue, includes an "online poll" asking:

"Should campus religious groups that exclude non-believers get taxpayer funds?"

Interesting question. The problem is that it has nothing to do with CLS v. Martinez, in which there are neither taxpayer nor public funds at issue. As The Buzz at CLS notes:

Taxpayer funds have nothing to do with the case. This is a a major error in fact. The only funds (they are not "public funds" as one of the other sources erroneously claimed) at issue are student activity fees, and the issue is their equal distribution to student groups.

What's happening right now is that CLS students are being forced to fund, through student fees, groups that conflict with their beliefs, but the school has set up a system that withholds those funds from Christian groups if they refuse to abandon the very reason for which they exist! Of course, the Supreme Court in Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995), held that public universities could not engage in viewpoint discrimination against religious student groups in distributing student activity fee funds, which is exactly what is happening here.

The case is about recognition by the university, which brings with it the ability to participate fully in the community life of the school and full access to the services and tools used by other recognized student organizations.

Maybe Parade's poll question should have been:

"Should student groups whose leaders are required to share the group's beliefs have equal access to student fees?"

(By the way, my podcast interview with the Christian Legal Society's lead counsel, Kimberlee Wood Colby is available on iTunesU).

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