Many CLR Forum readers will be familiar with Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion upholding the constitutionality of an “all-comers” policy at the UC-Hastings law school. The all-comers policy required student groups, including religious organizations like CLS, to open their membership to all law students, regardless of belief. By a 5-4 vote, the Court held that this policy was a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral regulation consistent with the First Amendment.
One of the arguments CLS made against the all-comers policy was that the policy made it vulnerable to sabotage by students hostile to its message. Non-Christians could join CLS precisely in order to hijack the organization and subvert its mission. The Court dismissed this concern as fanciful. There was no history of hostile takeovers of campus groups, Justice Ginsburg wrote, and one had to give law students more credit for maturity. Besides, the law school’s code of student conduct prohibited disruption of campus activities; if such things happened, the law school would surely intervene.
Justice Ginsburg’s dismissal of the possibility of student hijacking came to mind as I was reading this post on Rod Dreher’s blog. Dreher describes a recent forum on marriage organized by a student group at Columbia University. The forum was open to everyone on campus and featured speakers with traditional views, including Sherif Girgis, Lynn Wardle, and Bradford Wilcox. Even though the forum was sold out, the room was half empty. Why? Campus Democrats had hoarded tickets, apparently in an effort to prevent people from attending and hearing the speakers. Some campus Democrats did attend briefly to hold up protest signs and walk out. Here’s one student’s view of the situation, from the Columbia student paper:
From the start, the CU Democrats seemed misinformed—if not intent on spreading misinformation—about the purpose of the forum. It was not, as some that day said, an “anti-gay marriage tirade,” but a debate on the status of the modern family. . . . [T]he issue of the future of the family is a conversation that the CU Democrats seem unwilling to allow to take place, much less to take part in, despite their physical presence.
To be sure, hoarding tickets to a one-day conference is not the same thing as taking over a group. And, depending on your view of things, you might think of what the Columbia Democrats did as a harmless stunt or even a brave gesture for equality. Still, the campus Democrats used an all-comers policy to disrupt an event sponsored by another student group and limit that group’s message from reaching its intended audience. To me, this suggests that the possibility of hostile takeovers is not as far-fetched as the Martinez Court believed.