Although I’ve learned not to expect much from the right-leaning Supreme Court, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of their recent decisions. First was Holy See v. John Doe, in which the court upheld a ruling that the Vatican isn’t immune from lawsuits over its protection of pedophiles. The second was Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, in which a Christian student group sued a California law school to demand – what else? – the legal right to discriminate against gays.
The law school has a policy that all official student groups must accept all comers and may not turn anyone away on grounds of race, gender, or sexual orientation. The Christian group claimed that they should be able to exclude gays and still receive all the benefits granted to officially recognized student groups: university funding, the use of university facilities for meetings, and the right to use the university’s newsletter for their communications. Fortunately, the Supreme Court disagreed:
The court held that the all-comers condition on access to a limited public forum was both reasonable and viewpoint neutral, and therefore did not violate CLS’s right to free speech. Nor, in the court’s view, did Hastings impermissibly impair CLS’s right to expressive association: Hastings did not order CLS to admit any student, nor did the school proscribe any speech; Hastings merely placed conditions on the use of school facilities and funds.
This decision was both simple and reasonable, and is the obvious consequence of state and federal laws forbidding the government to cooperate in discrimination. Since the activity fee that funds student groups is mandatory, Hastings’ policy ensures that no student is “forced to fund a group that would reject her as a member”. As the court points out, other groups such as fraternities and sororities don’t have official school recognition, yet they continue to thrive, and CLS is also still in existence and still holding its own events.
Departing Justice John Paul Stevens summed up the issue at hand in his concurrence, in a praiseworthy reminder that religiously inspired bigotry is no different than any other kind of bigotry:
Other groups may exclude or mistreat Jews, blacks, and women — or those who do not share their contempt for Jews, blacks, and women. A free society must tolerate such groups. It need not subsidize them, give them its official imprimatur, or grant them equal access to law school facilities.
All well and good, and I look forward to this decision being applied across the country. (Yes, I’m perfectly happy to see it apply to atheist groups as well.) But then I got a news alert directing me to this column, by Mike Adams on the ultra-right-wing site Townhall. As you’d expect, he’s furious that the government won’t cooperate in spreading his prejudice, and he’s threatening to do something about it:
…when I get back to the secular university in August, I plan to round up the students I know who are most hostile to atheism. Then I’m going to get them to help me find atheist-haters willing to join atheist student groups across the South. I plan to use my young fundamentalist Christian warriors to undermine the mission of every group that disagrees with me on the existence of God.
That means an invading group can turn a smaller, weaker group into second class citizens on campus. That’s what I intend to do to those groups who do not believe in God.
I do not seek robust debate. I seek power over the godless heathen dissident.
Now obviously, this is just a petulant tantrum. I don’t expect Adams to actually attempt this idiotic plan, but even if he tried, it would be easy to thwart him. The court’s decision pointed out that student groups could still, for example, expel members who didn’t pay dues, or restrict officer positions to those who had been members for a year or more. If his “young Christian warriors” wanted to disrupt an atheist club, they’d have to sit and wait for a year, paying to promote atheism the whole time, before they’d get their chance. I doubt many Christians would be willing to do that. Or an atheist law students’ club could just forgo official recognition, exactly as the court emphasized that they could, and restrict their membership to professing nonbelievers.
What concerns me more is that Mike Adams isn’t just some random wingnut. According to his biography, he’s a criminology professor at UNC-Wilmington.
It’s one thing for professors to express political opinions. Liberal or conservative, they have the same free-speech rights as anyone else. It’s something else altogether for Adams, a college professor, to proclaim that he seeks “power” over students on his own campus who disagree with him, that he “can’t stand” them, that he wants to “undermine” and “destroy” their associations, and that his goal is to reduce them to “second-class citizens”. It’s chilling and inappropriate in the extreme for any person to make such statements about people over whom he has legitimate authority. If I were an atheist student, after reading this, I wouldn’t be confident of fair treatment in Adams’ class. (Just imagine the response from the right wing if an atheist professor wrote a column saying that he can’t stand Christian students, wants to treat them as second-class citizens, and plans to disrupt and destroy their church meetings.)
I plan to write to UNC-Wilmington to bring this column to their attention and to ask if they sanction these kinds of statements from their professors about their own students. Here’s contact info for the dean of Adams’ school. Anyone else want to join me in writing a polite letter?