A recent Supreme Court decision holds dire implications for Christians who would like to form a club on a university campus. By a 5-4 ruling, in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the court decided in late June that if a Christian group wants to be recognized at an American university, it does not have the right to restrict its membership or leadership to practicing Christians. Such restriction, according to the court, constitutes unjust discrimination.
Now, if a group of Christians forms a club at an American school of higher learning, it must welcome, if the school’s policy so dictates, its adversaries — that is, those who are strongly opposed to its meaning and purpose. Worst-case scenario: A sufficient number of adversaries, then, having voting power, can hijack the organization and conform it to its own purposes. In this way, “diversity” leads to discord and, eventually, dissolution.
In support of the ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that inclusiveness and diversity are valuable because they encourage students of varying backgrounds and beliefs to learn from each other in open discussion.
Kennedy has a point, but it applies to a school in a general way, not to every particular club that came into being because of shared values or purposes that gave it coherence and meaning. Lacking context, diversity can facilitate destruction while inclusiveness brings about exclusion.
Both diversity without unity and inclusiveness without boundaries are meaningless concepts.
Christ commands his disciples to love their enemies. In fact, the idea of Christians loving those who want to defeat them makes the Church more “inclusive” than any other organization.
At the same time, in distinguishing between the “Christian” and the “enemy,” Christ made it clear that they do not have the same status in relation to the Church. Because salvation is extended to all human beings and because Christ’s redemptive grace is available to everyone, even people outside the Church are potentially members of the Body of Christ: Their names are on the guest list, and they would be warmly welcomed in, but they have yet to accept the Church’s universal invitation.
A person who is not yet a member of the Church might become one. This is the traditional meaning of conversion. Likewise, an enemy can become an ally. It is with this distinction in mind that Cardinal John Henry Newman could say that he treated his enemies as if someday they would become his friends.
The new Supreme Court ruling obliterates this time-honored distinction. A Christian club on a college campus must regard its enemies not as enemies but as colleagues, thereby obfuscating both its own identity as well as the identity of those who contradict its purpose.
Writing for the minority, Justice Samuel Alito stated: “I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today’s decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country.”
A policy that allows the dissolution of Christian groups and their exclusion from campus life is not consistent with either diversity or inclusiveness, if we are to understand these terms in a positive and meaningful sense. This is why Alito found such a policy, as instituted by the Hastings Law School of the University of California, to be “not fundamentally reasonable.”
It is most disconcerting that five justices on the Supreme Court are unable to understand key terms such as “discrimination,” “diversity” and “inclusiveness” in a way that actually promotes freedom. The words of Confucius still ring true: “If language is incorrect, then what is said is not meant. If what is said is not meant, then what ought to be done remains undone.”
Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University.