By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The legal dispute that serves as a vehicle for Newt Gingrich's screed in today's Washington Post is mildly interesting, if not particularly new. It seems that a Christian Legal Society at a public law school in San Francisco applied for travel funds and other benefits available to student clubs a few years back. It was turned down because it required that its members be Christians, which university officials, worrying about whether government should be in the business of supporting one faith over another, found discriminatory.
The school told the Christians that they were free to gather, to join, to practice their faith, and use school facilities--they just couldn't get all the benefits of full recognition, as long as they were a Christians-only club. That wasn't good enough for the Christians, so they sued, insisting that, unless they got their $200 in travel funds, they were the victims of discrimination.
It wasn't always this way, but Americans nowadays just love to be victims, don't we? We jostle and fight, all the time, for the chance to pout and weep for ourselves and cry, "Poor, poor, pitiful me" in the public square. It is very wimpy, if you ask me, yet the Supreme Court has had to rule on all sorts of these cases in recent years.
Should the St. Patrick's Day parade in South Boston, or the Boy Scouts of America, be forced to admit gays? Can a Christian group at the University of Virginia claim school sponsorship? And then there are all the Ten Commandments and Christmas crèche cases. I sometimes wonder what the justices and the Supreme Court bar would do if they didn't have such nit-picking to occupy their time.
The outcome of the San Francisco case, which will be argued before the Supreme Court on Monday, seems preordained. The high court will tell the law school to get a grip. One federal appeals court has already ruled on behalf of the Christians. The dispute has only made it to the highest court because the sometimes nutty 9th Circuit--the liberal outlier among appeals panels--disagrees. As Gingrich notes:
In the past, the high court has repeatedly asserted that a university, by letting a club use its facilities, is not subsidizing that club or putting the government's legal stamp of approval on its activities. Nor, the court has said, does using student fees to underwrite a broad spectrum of student organizations and activities necessitate that every club has to meet with every student's approval.
"Repeatedly asserted" is the key phrase. It seems highly unlikely that the court, dominated by conservatives and Catholics, will now reverse itself, and issue a broad and repressive order, forcing Christian student groups in schools across the nation to take atheists, Jews, Muslims, and peyote-chomping Native Americans as members, or be banished from the campuses.
And yet, having acknowledged that this touchy issue is being handled pretty sensibly by the American legal system, Gingrich becomes hysterical.
The mere fact that this case has reached the Supreme Court is cause for all God-fearing Americans to be outraged, he says. Christians (the majority religion in the US of A, last time I checked) are being persecuted!
At "countless" colleges around the country, "people of faith are being deliberately marginalized and excluded," says Newt, "for having the temerity to suggest that there's an authority higher than school administrators, a truth more compelling than the latest government-dictated cultural doctrine, and a God more worthy of worship than the idols of the left."
Someone give Newt his meds. I don't know about you, but I have two kids on college campuses at the moment. They have managed to resist the "government-dictated cultural doctrine" and never have had shrines, in their rooms, to worship idols of the left, or right. (Beer, yes; shrines, no.) Their mother and I raised them to think for themselves, and we are proud and pleased that they do.
There is no cause for hyper-ventilating. A legal system forced to balance the often conflicting rights and obligations of 350 million people of all shapes and sizes is occasionally going to give birth to silly disputes--like whether a fast food restaurant is responsible if a customer burns his lips on a hot cup of coffee--that make the rest of us shake our heads, laugh at the absurdity, and go back to work.
We should give the Christians their coveted bus money, tell them to stop their unseemly whining, and move on.