Since the Supreme Court’s sharply divided and startlingly wrongheaded decision two years ago in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, those concerned about religious liberty on campus have known that the fallout was on its way. At Vanderbilt University, it has arrived — and it’s as bad as anticipated.
In Martinez, the Court determined that public institutions like the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law could require all student groups — even those based on shared belief, such as religious and political organizations — to admit members and even leaders without regard to their beliefs. Groups like the Christian Legal Society (CLS), whose constitution required students to have traditional Christian beliefs (such as in Christ’s bodily resurrection) and morals (no sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage), could be required to remove those provisions from their constitutions and admit “all comers,” or else face “derecognition” and the corresponding loss of access to meeting space and other benefits that all other groups enjoyed. To lack recognition is basically not to exist at all on today’s college campus.
Justice Alito, writing for the minority in the 5–4 decision, warned that the decision would be used as a “weapon” against groups with viewpoints that are unpopular among the vast majority of college administrators, since the immediate negative impact of the decision would fall mostly upon the religiously and politically conservative groups those administrators already disfavor. Other critics such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) warned that an all-comers policy would sweep within its ambit political groups as well, and invite takeovers and spying by members of opposing groups who wished to cause mischief or even destroy their rivals. At minimum, such a policy guarantees that a group will have no mechanism to maintain a consistent message.