Support Maranatha for legal reasons

Both Worship and Prayer Fellowship and my organization, Campus Republicans, support Maranatha Christian Fellowship’s lawsuit against the Board of Regents. Unfortunately, it is unlikely other groups will publicly come out in support. It is little wonder few groups will come out in support and risk similar ridicule to what Maranatha has received. But regardless of who supports the suit, it is based on solid legal ground.

Relevant cases include Boy Scouts of America v. Dale and University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents v. Southworth. Southworth makes it clear the University may not discriminate against minority viewpoints in providing services – in that case student fees. The recognition of a group as official is providing a service, much like fees. The University may not dictate speech to groups receiving these fees, but to get them, a group must sign the nondiscrimination agreement. So, we must find out whether signing that agreement is, in fact, protected by the First Amendment.

In Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the Supreme Court ruled that applying New Jersey’s public accommodations law to require the Boy Scouts to admit Dale, a homosexual man, violated the Boy Scouts’ First Amendment right of expressive association. The University mandating Maranatha to sign a statement preventing this expression does, in fact, abridge the group’s rights. By making signing this agreement mandatory, the University imposes its speech as an unlawful requirement on student groups. As we see in Southworth, the University cannot withhold fees from a group based on its viewpoint (“viewpoint neutrality”). So it naturally follows that other forums, such as recognition as an official group, also cannot be withheld on the basis of speech or viewpoint.

Let me illustrate my point. Suppose next year, Maranatha elects a promising sophomore as its new president. Halfway through his junior year this young man decides he is now, and always has been, a homosexual. In this situation, if Maranatha were to impeach this man, it could be removed as a recognized University student group as a result of signing the nondiscrimination agreement. Having a homosexual as an officer would significantly burden the organization’s right to oppose or condemn homosexual conduct – its protected speech, in other words. Thus, signing the nondiscrimination agreement would abridge and burden Maranatha’s constitutional freedoms.

The point of Maranatha’s lawsuit is not to discourage those who disagree with Maranatha from joining or participating in its events, but rather to broaden the horizons of free speech and association on campus. It is about the rights of students to form groups and have access to University resources and facilities without undue burden being placed on the operations and ideologies of their group.

The University must not require Maranatha to sign any statement abridging its right of expressive association. To do so damages the reputation of the University as a free and open marketplace of ideas, and is a major violation of the group’s constitutional rights.

Dan Nelson is chairman of the Campus Republicans. Send comments to [email protected]