Phi Beta Cons

Some States Push Back Against the Martinez Decision

In 2010, the Supreme Court held in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez that universities may impose a rule on campus organizations that they cannot discriminate against anyone who wishes to become a member on the grounds that he doesn’t agree with the organization’s key beliefs. That is, if a school thinks that an “all comers” policy is consistent with its crusade against any and all forms of “bias” then it may impose it.

Quite a few people have argued that the decision was mistaken and has bad consequences. A number of states have enacted laws that keep their state universities from adopting such rules, at least when it comes to officers of the organization. In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Harry Painter looks at this development. One of the states is North Carolina where the law, he writes, “prevents UNC and other state-funded colleges and universities from denying recognition to religious or political student organizations if they require leaders to conform to their mission.”

Painter (and I) think this is a welcome return to sanity, but the law doesn’t go far enough. Why should it apply only to the leaders of organizations? Why not all members? After all, how would someone who disagrees with the fundamental mission or belief system of an organization ever get elected to a leadership position unless the membership had already been salted with a large number of similar dissidents? Long before the election of leaders who disagree could happen, members who disagree would have to infiltrate in force. Whether or not a dissident leader is ever elected, groups should not have to put up with members who might be there only to disrupt or embarrass it. Still, a step in the right direction.


George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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