Another Turn of the Screw

In late June, the Supreme Court, in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, issued a ruling with profound implications for the relationship of believers to the government.

The case involved the CLS chapter at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law. CLS requires members to ascribe to its statement of faith and renounce “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.”

Claiming that this requirement violated its policy that all students be permitted to participate in organizations’ activities, Hastings denied the CLS official recognition.

The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, rejected CLS’ argument and decided in favor of Hastings.

The impact of this decision goes far beyond the Christian Legal Society. Groups like Intervarsity are rightly concerned about what the Court’s imprimatur on Hastings’ “all-comers” requirement means for them. Will they be able to exercise even basic discipline among their members? If anyone can belong and even become a leader, can they even remain a Christian organization?

Folks, these aren’t theoretical questions. And listen to this: In his concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy (the “swing vote” in the five to four decision) struck a very ominous note. He compared the CLS’ requirements to McCarthy-era “loyalty oaths” and pronounced that “the era of loyalty oaths is behind us.”

Now what does that say about loyalty to creed, statements of faith—indeed, the Bible itself? The era of loyalty oaths is behind us? I guess the only oath we can take today is to secular liberalism, which confines religion to an increasingly tiny, private sphere. As I have noted elsewhere, religious freedom is more and more defined as the right to “worship,” as long as that worship has no public dimension. You are free to think and feel as you wish, as long as you strive to keep it to yourself.

This has happened before, because in the absence of absolute standards of truth, decisions are made by whoever is in power. And those, like Christians, who lack power, are expected just to go along.

This decision forces us to confront the issue of whether—and at what point—we must disobey Caesar in order to obey God. Banning statements of faith would put us squarely in this position. We don’t choose civil disobedience, but we’re being forced to consider it ever more seriously.

This is why I have asked Dr. Timothy George, the dean of Beeson Divinity School and the chairman of the board of BreakPoint, to address the issue head on. He’s filmed a powerful message on believers and civil disobedience. I’ve made Dr. George’s video a part of my Two-Minute Warning this week. Please visit and watch the Two-Minute Warning.

And then I want you to stand with organizations like CLS and InterVarsity by signing the Manhattan Declaration. It’s a protest against the increasing tendency to “trample upon the freedom” of those who would “express their religious and moral commitments.”

In a world where what’s increasingly being required of Christians goes beyond “tolerance” to actual participation in activities contrary to God’s law, we must be prepared to say “no.”

Saying “no” has its costs, but at some point, it’s no longer optional, at least if we’re clear about where our loyalty lies.

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  • jpckcmo

    There is nothing in this decision that removes the power of an organization to require oaths or restrict membership in any way, shape or form. All it does is remove official recognition and, I suppose, funding for that organization from the school. Since government funds are probably involved, I do not want my tax dollars going to an organization that discriminates or requires such oaths any more than you want your tax dollars going for abortions.

  • jpckcmo:
    What happened to the CLS is they lost rights given to EVERY OTHER student group on campus: either they may not choose who their members and leaders are, or they may not have any use of University facilities.

    In which case, this ruling also removes equal protection before the law from those who order their lives according to the free exercise of religion.

    Though I will agree, that I don’t want my tax dollars going to CLS, or the GLBTQ alliance, or PPFA, or the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or the Gates Foundation, or the Sierra Club, or any other charity or advocacy group.

  • jpckcmo

    Then we are agreed. No tax dollars should go to an organization that limits its membership or message to fit a particular religious view. I am okay with that.

  • jpckcmo, so no tax dollars should go to ANY of the organizations Arkanabar Ilarsadin, listed, right? Becasue they are all limiting membership according to a relgious view. So what is the corrallary to that?

  • jpckcmo

    To my knowledge, none of those organizations require that you sign an oath which states that you conform to a particular view of any kind, let alone a religious one. Anyone can join the Sierra Club, even if they believe in strip mining. Anyone can belong to Planned Parenthood, even if you are against abortion. There is no litmus test for these organizations, no oath.

  • You are simply incorrect that these organizations do not discriminate on the basis of beliefs. If people who believed in whale hunting and strip mining were to en masse join the Sierra club with a view to changing its constitution and agenda, you would quickly see how much they discriminate. Planned Parenthood has objected to the concept that they would have to include people who object to abortion in other instances. You are simply naive.

    The oath is not really the problem in your mind; it is religion. If Sierra Club had its members take an oath to defend the environment, you wouldn’t mind, would you? If the LGBT club made its members swear to fight for “gay marriage” — that wouldn’t bother you at all.

    The core problem here is that you are counter-privileging religious beliefs. You want to extend to political, environmental and every other kind of belief — even anti-religious — considerations that you deny religious belief. That is simply wrong. It is wholly unjust to your fellow citizens. What about the right of free association, even apart from the free exercise right?

    If the religious club can’t use the publically- and student-funded facilities, then neither should all the other clubs be allowed to. All they are asking for is a level playing field.