Common Sense vs the University of Georgia Posted by: McQ
on Friday, December 08, 2006
While the Supreme Court hashes out whether or not the color of you skin can be used to discriminate for or against you in college admissions, we had this little drama going on locally:
This week, the Georgia Pi chapter of Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX), also known as Brothers Under Christ, filed a lawsuit against the University of Georgia contending that UGA has denied its rights to religious and associational freedom and equal protection. The fraternity argues that it, and all other campus religious groups, should be exempt from the university policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.
The BYX brothers want members to affirm an explicitly Christian doctrinal statement and adhere to a religiously inspired code of conduct. UGA told them that they can't make those demands and expect to have access to all the benefits —- such as meeting space on campus, accounts with the business office and grants for activities —- available to officially recognized student groups. In other words, the university's generally laudable commitment to nondiscrimination required, in its view, that it discriminate against groups that take their religious mission seriously enough to hold members to it. According to UGA, nondiscrimination trumped religious freedom.
This is a regrettable and unnecessary conflict. It surely isn't required by a genuine commitment to nondiscrimination. The authors of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act carved out an exemption —- unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court —- for religious organizations that wish to discriminate on the basis of religion.
Now if this wasn't a perfect example of the absurd levels to which some institutions take "nondiscrimination" (an almost religious and absolute tenet - well except when using it for admissions ... that's permissible. And SAT scores. And ...), it would be funny ... no irony intended.
Tell me, how does a religion define itself except through the acceptance of a particular and discriminatory system of beliefs? You can't be a "Christian" if you don't believe Christ was the son of God. So a) why would you want to call yourself one and b) why would you want to join a club or fraternity in which that belief is a central tenet and a requirement for membership?
Most wouldn't. And most wouldn't consider themselves discriminated against if they were denied membership. We all innately understand that the nature of religion requires a certain level of discrimination.
Even those who passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as noted in the article, understood that by definition a religion must be discriminatory.
As this was developing, it looked like a so-called "institution of higher learning" such as the University of Georgia was going to have to be convinced in court (with all the expense that entails) of that which most of us understand through pure common sense.
Fortunately, that was avoided when the future revealed itself in the form of another lawsuit at another "institution of higher learning" in which the university lost:
Unfortunately, however, the university seemed at first to be digging in its heels, preferring expensive litigation to simple accommodation. UGA spokesman Tom Jackson said, "We will comply with the law, whatever the courts determine that to be." We'll accommodate BYX, in other words, only if a judge tells us to.
Considering that the most recent decision on this matter —- in a case involving a student religious group at Southern Illinois University —- resulted in a preliminary injunction against a similar policy on that campus, a federal judge would indeed have told UGA to do the right thing.
Fortunately, it didn't come to that. Late Thursday, UGA recognized the short-sightedness of its initial stance, agreeing to recognize the fraternity and to review its nondiscrimination policies with a view to making them hospitable to the commitments of all student religious groups.
That doesn't mean common sense concerning discrimination prevailed, it only points to a realization by the school that they probably wouldn't win this fight in court even though they were willing to do that.
The irony? My bet is, should the Supreme Court rule that discrimination by skin color is taboo, UGA will lament the ruling.