The Clash

This articles intersects with a couple of issues we’ve been talking about lately. (Well, I say ‘we’ – I’ve been talking about them. I know that. It’s just me, going jaw, jaw, jaw. I realize that. But I think of it as a discussion anyway – I think ‘we’re’ talking about them. Because…because of a lot of things. Comments, and emails I get, and that tiny little high-pitched voice that no one else hears, and – what meds? I’m fine, cut it out, get your hands off me – )

Sorry. Where was I. A couple of issues. The one about various tensions between cherished goals and ideas, and the one about special treatment of religion.

In the bitter controversy that followed, the Christian Legal Society sued Ohio State, charging that the university’s nondiscrimination policy violated the group’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion by forcing it to accept unwanted members. This past fall, without ever going to court, the group won a complete victory when Ohio State changed its policy to exempt student groups formed to promote “sincerely held religious beliefs.”…Requiring a Christian-student association to admit non-Christians or gay people, “would be like requiring a vegetarian group to admit meat eaters,” asserts Jordan Lorence, a senior lawyer at the Alliance Defense Fund, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz. “It would be like forcing the College Democrats to accept Republicans.”…Emotionally charged conflicts like the one at Ohio State have forced colleges to choose which of two basic principles is more important: freedom of religion, guaranteed by the First Amendment, or equal protection under the law, as established by the 14th Amendment. “There are times when constitutional rights come into conflict with one another,” says Jeffrey Gamso, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Aren’t there just. And such times force one to think hard about which rights, goals, values, ideas are more important (or valuable or basic or non-negotiable or central or various other terms indicating which is less possible to give up) and which are less so. And often such thinking gets one nowhere but at a stalemate, an ‘I don’t know.’ And I don’t know. Because groups are discriminatory, aren’t they. If you have a book group, you discriminate against people who never read. If you have a cooking group, you discriminate against people who eat out of tins and foil bags. If you have a runners’ group, you discriminate against people who prefer to amble or sit or lie flat. And so on. But you don’t really want to see the same principle extended to the Anti-Semites’ group, or the Misogynists’ Club, or the Homophobia Alliance. So you seem to want to judge groups on the merits of their principles of discrimination – and what a can of worms that would be to get into! What a lot of time and trouble that would be. As all these college adminstrators and litigators remark in the article.

Critics of the change are particularly concerned that the settlement exempts only religious student groups from nondiscrimination rules, which may represent an unconstitutional favoring of religious groups over nonreligious ones, says Ruth Colker, a professor of constitutional law at Ohio State. She predicts that the decision could lead to future lawsuits if nonreligious groups are denied recognition because they practice some form of discrimination.

Well, exactly. Here we are again. Why do ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ get special consideration when other kinds of sincerely held beliefs don’t? There seem to be a lot of reasons – habit; religion is consoling; religion is taken to be central to people’s identity; religious people are willing to sue; and no doubt more. But none of them really seems like a knock-down argument or reason, does it. Which is why people aren’t always pleased when sincerely held religious beliefs get special treatment that sincerely held secular beliefs don’t.

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