Campus Progress’ David Spett Talks to Greg about ‘CLS v. Martinez’

By on November 5, 2010

David Spett from Campus Progress published a thoughtful interview with FIRE President Greg Lukianoff following Greg’s speech before National Association of Scholars members in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

Greg’s talk outlined the negative implications of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, which we have written about extensively here on The Torch. Spett captures the heart of our argument against the "all-comers" policy upheld by the ruling:

Is discrimination on campus ever necessary? A prominent civil liberties group says yes, and its argument is remarkably persuasive.

Student organizations like the College Democrats and evangelical bible study groups can’t exist without the right to exclude dissenters, says Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). This amounts to a necessary form of discrimination against students who disagree with a group’s mission.

If a university required its progressive magazine to accept columns from every conservative student, "how would you prevent the magazine from being watered down or taken over, or from losing its integrity?" Lukianoff says. "Discriminating on the basis of viewpoint is part and parcel of having a viewpoint-based group."

The majority in Martinez reasoned that belief-based groups are not substantially affected by losing university recognition, because the loss of campus benefits like student fees funding and meeting space is mitigated by the availability of private communication channels like social networking. This argument fails to appreciate the impact that denial of official recognition can have on a student organization:

"Official recognition is actually what it means to be a student group," [Lukianoff] says, and it’s nearly impossible for groups to operate without the benefits recognition affords.

"A lot of the time, it means you can’t meet on campuses, can’t apply for student funding, can’t be listed in the student handbook, can’t actually email students," he says. "It means essentially that you are a nonentity on that campus."

Protecting the right of student groups to "discriminate" may seem counterintuitive at first, as the article’s lead question indicates, but it’s essential for promoting robust debate and freedom of association on campus. For more on CLS v. Martinez, be sure to check out FIRE’s Frequently Asked Questions about the case.

We thank David for sharing FIRE’s perspective with his readers at CampusProgress.org.