Here’s a fascinating case. A high school in Washington refused to allow a GSA club to get official school recognition because the charter of the group, which had to be submitted to the school during the application process, required that members sign a piece of paper saying that they supported equal rights for the entire LGBT community. The school said this violates their anti-discrimination policy, which says that student clubs must be open to all students.
A Federal district court ruled in favor of the school, saying that the anti-discrimination policy was a reasonable basis for denying recognition of the student group. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling and remanded it back to the court to decide whether the group should have been granted an exemption from that policy, as other clubs at the school have been granted.
Oops. I’m sorry, I got the facts slightly mixed up. In fact it was a Bible club and the charter of the club required that members of the group sign a paper announcing their commitment to Biblical Christian principles. Does that change how you feel about the case? It shouldn’t. The principle is exactly the same. In fact, the school does have a GSA club and it does allow that club to restrict membership based on agreement with the group’s mission:
The Gay-Straight Alliance requires that students “must be willing to work towards the goals of the club” to be members. These goals include “bring[ing] GLBTQ [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Questioning] issues into the open, while working to decrease homophobia.” Other goals include “changing stereotypes” and “fight[ing] heterosexism and other forms of oppression.”
Other idea-based clubs get the same consideration:
The EarthCorps, for example, requires members to show “interest and dedication toward environmental issues.” Similarly, the Key Club requires that members be “interested in
service, qualified scholastically, of good character, possessing leadership potential . . . [and] willing to perform at least fifty hours of . . . service.”
The ruling also notes that the school has separate Men’s and Girl’s Honor Clubs. These cases have cropped up all over the country on college campuses, but this is the first time I’ve seen it happen in a high school over the specific issue of non-discrimination. But here’s the odd part: the 9th circuit now conflicts with itself on this issue, ruling one way in regard to a high school club and the opposite in regard to a college club.
I take the same position on this that I have always taken when it comes to college groups and anti-discrimination policies: they simply don’t apply. All ideas-based groups should be allowed to control their membership on the basis of one’s agreement with those ideas. If we do not allow that, then there is no point in allowing the formation of such groups at all.