November 11th, 2015
As another Halloween comes and goes, we are reminded that what was once a holiday for children’s parties and trick-or-treating has become a multi-million-dollar industry focused on adult costumes and theme parties for one night of make-believe intrigue. It is also a time of great excitement for many college students, as Halloween provides a brief respite from studying as their semester heads full steam toward mid-terms.
College is a unique experience that teaches more lessons outside of classrooms than inside. One of the reasons that college campuses are great places of learning both textbook and life lessons is the fact that they offer a free-zone. Campuses across the country offer students the ability to broaden their cultural horizons while learning what is acceptable without the harsh light of reality shining down on them.
Recent events at a UCLA party have brought that light onto the campus and it has not been kind. The problem now is that the same type of student activist whose parents likely fought for the free speech they now enjoy are now advocating for the sanctioning of that voice. Luckily for students across the nation, the Supreme Court’s decisions guiding much of school policy have been bent significantly in favor of upholding the First Amendment in its entirety.
Recent Conundrum: Speech v. Religion
In an opinion from 2010, the Supreme Court upheld the rights of students to express their beliefs freely and without restriction even if the words they use may express hate toward others. The decision was Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (2010) and involved a student group at a law school, the petitioner, that argued that the school’s mandate that it allow any student that wished to join or face non-recognition infringed on the student members’ First Amendment rights to free association, speech, and free exercise of religion. The group argued that the policy forced it to open its membership rolls to those who do not share in their beliefs as they relate to sexual orientation and religion.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found that the school’s policy did not violate the rights of students. The majority recognized the importance of the First Amendment freedoms, especially in a college environment, but took note that the policy was merely ensuring equal access for all students to all school sanctioned organizations. The policy in no way hindered the group’s ability to practice its religion or share its beliefs publicly. Rather, the Supreme Court noted that had the policy placed a restriction on what the groups could believe or say, it likely would have been a violation. However, the mere allowance of another, who may or may not share the group’s viewpoint, does not in and of itself place a restriction on the group’s ability to promote such.
The Court also distinguished this issue from other policies regarding student group membership by pointing out that the University allowed the group to “opt out” while still being a group comprised of members only of its choosing and using campus meeting rooms and the like, similar to the fraternities and sororities of the University.
Reflection Leads to Action?
The Universal Life Church Case Law is committed to being a watchful presence in all matters that affect the First Amendment freedoms promised to us all as citizens of the United States. We may not always like what others are saying, but that does not mean our government can stop them from saying it. Nor would we want it to, as we ourselves want to ensure that our religious rights are protected in the same manner. We will continue to monitor cases and controversies as they move through the legal system to ensure the protections of the Constitution remain strong.