Cal State’s Spineless Defense

December 20, 2005

FIRE’s case at Cal State San Bernardino is making national headlines today. An Associated Press piece is running across California, and the San Bernardino County Sun, the Riverside Press Enterprise, and several other media outlets have published their own stories on Cal State’s assault on religious liberty. FIRE’s own Greg Lukianoff has also been taking to the airwaves all day. All the news articles will continue to be archived on our case page, and if you peruse them, you’ll see one thing over and over: Cal State’s exceedingly lame justification for its actions. It goes a bit like this:

Cal State San Bernardino rejected the club’s charter application because it would admit people based on religious affiliation and sexual orientation, said Christine Hansen, director of student leadership and development in the office of Student Affairs.

“We are not permitted to charter them under Title V,” Hansen said, referring to the section of the California Code of Regulations that deals with education.

She said the university will continue to keep resources from the club unless the group agrees to include non-Christians and people engaged in extramarital sex.

Translation: we’re doing what we’re doing because some statewide policy told us to, and until it changes we’ll just stick our heads in the sand. To be fair, that’s the obvious and easy answer here. (It’s also similar to what we heard at William Paterson University, where until recently administrators hid behind an unconstitutional statewide policy in order to punish a religious objection to homosexuality in a private e-mail as “sexual harassment.”)

But what’s easy and obvious—the path of least resistance—is not always what is morally right, not to mention what is legal. As we said during the William Paterson controversy, state regulations don’t trump the Constitution. In this case, Cal State’s nondiscrimination policy, however well intended it may be, has to take a back seat to students’ First Amendment right of free association. And going beyond the law, Cal State’s administrators evince a terrible ignorance of history by falling back on bad policy in order to justify misbehavior. States have legalized lots of bad things throughout U.S. history. Certainly the mere fact that they were legal doesn’t mean they were the right thing to do. Neither is taking away adult students’ right to associate with whom they wish, no matter what laws are passed or policies promulgated.

It certainly wouldn’t be easy for Cal State administrators to admit they were wrong. But how often is doing the right thing easy?

One other note: the AP piece mentioned above lumps FIRE in with “[s]everal Christian organizations” that “began campaigning on Monday to force the university to approve [the Christian Student Association].” Not to be a broken record, but FIRE is not a Christian organization, nor is it sectarian or partisan. To the extent we have an ideology, it is only the following: more freedom is better than less. Our staff, directors, advisors, and clients come from across the religious, ideological, and political spectrums. And if you don’t believe that, try and find a Christian organization that would have run to the ramparts, as we did just recently, to protect a student’s right to perform a play satirizing The Passion of the Christ.

Schools:  William Paterson University Washington State University California State University – San Bernardino

Cases:  California State University at San Bernardino: Refusal to Recognize Christian Group