Monday, June 28, 2010
With sometimes over-the-top rhetoric and with occasional exaggerated or even mythical tales of episodes, a growing number of religious leaders argue that our government has become, not just indifferent, but actually hostile to people of traditional religious faith. We are told that the government abandoned traditional values and respect for religious faith during the middle of the twentieth century, as represented most conspicuously by the ban on prayer in public school. Then, the argument continues, the government began in the 1960s and 1970s to promote liberal secular ideologies, such as typically found in public school sex education programs, which conflicted with traditional religious and moral teachings. Now, the story goes, the government has entered the final stage by affirmatively suppressing those who dare to express religious values in public life.
The exclusion of the Christian Legal Society as a registered student organization by the Hastings College of Law, which was upheld as constitutional in today's Supreme Court decision, will become another object lesson for those who portray our public institutions as hostile to people of faith. And that perception will be more powerful because, in this case at least, the perception is grounded in harsh reality. Even assuming good faith and sincere progressive ideals by the Hastings law school administration in its enforcement of "anti-discrimination" policies against the Christian Legal Society, the inescapable fact remains that a prominent member of the legal academy has suppressed a counter-cultural religious minority (that is, a minority in law school settings) and weakened the religious speech and association rights of traditional Christians in law school. With this, and similar bans or restrictions on student faith-based organizations that almost surely will follow at other publicly-funded law schools, the legal academy will be sealed more tightly into a liberal secular echo chamber.
Very sad. And so contrary to the principles of diversity and freedom of thought so often touted by the legal academy.
The Christian Legal Society is about as mainstream a religious organization as could be found in this country. Far from representing a tiny sliver of Christianity or espousing narrow sectarian theology, the Christian Legal Society has a "Statement of Faith" which every Christian can affirm. Nor is the organization a partisan political entity or one that holds to a fringe political agenda. Members of the Christian Legal Society range from fundamentalists and evangelicals to mainline Protestants and Catholics. Liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, political activists, poverty lawyers, big firm lawyers, small firm lawyers -- all are found in the active membership of the Christian Legal Society. Even in its position on sexual morality, espousing the traditional view that sexual relations should be occur only within "God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman," the Christian Legal Society reflects the broad mainstream of American Christianity. Like it or not, the overwhelming majority of Christian churches and denominations, attended by the overwhelming majority of the Christian faithful in America, adhere in official statements and church policies to traditional views on sexual morality. Those Christian denominations that accept same-sex or other non-traditional sexual relationships remain a tiny minority, mostly mainline denominations with declining membership. At present, an endorsement of traditional sexual morality represents the sweeping middle of American Christianity. Thus, for Hastings Law School to ban the Christian Legal Society from among its registered student groups takes a swipe at the lion's share of the believing population in this country.
One of the legacies of the Christian Legal Society decision will be the further decline by people of faith in support for public initiatives and the further withdrawal of many faithful people from engagement in public life. On the Mirror of Justice, we have had vigorous debates about Catholic teaching and principles and the use of government to promote the common good, especially the poor and disadvantaged. While we have had strong disagreements on the prudence of government involvement in certain matters and the degree of government involvement overall, all (or nearly all) of us on the Mirror of Justice agree that the public, sometimes through government activity, has a vital role in promoting the common good. That case will be harder to make in the future.
Why should people of faith support with their tax dollars public education programs when people of faith are excluded or denigrated? When public university presidents hold out their hands for more money (or at least fewer budget cuts) at each legislative session, why should people of faith respond favorably if public universities treat Christians as second-class citizens? Or, taking it a step further, why should people of faith trust the government to have a larger role in the economy through regulation of business enterprises or provision of health care, when too many government elites not only do not share the values of believers but appear to be hostile to them?