The Rational Necessity of Viewpoint Discrimination

THIS little essay was inspired by something appearing today in WorldNetDaily (WND) — a worthless rag that vomits a putrid stream of conspiracy theories, creationism, and theocratic lunacy. Their article is titled Alito: Supremes endorse ‘viewpoint discrimination’.

It’s a rant against a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that upholds a “non-discrimination” policy for all student groups at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. We haven’t read the decision, but it seems to be about one of those goofy behavior rules that only an academic institution could conceive of imposing. According to WND, the school’s policy, which was upheld (with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting), provided that:

[R]eligious groups were not permitted to express a religious viewpoint by limiting membership to students who shared their religious viewpoints.

[...]

The court’s majority opinion, by Ginsburg, said, “Compliance with Hastings’ all-comers policy, we conclude, is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the student-organization forum.”

WND is infuriated. They agree with Alito’s dissent that a religious group should have the freedom to limit its membership to those who share their faith. Your Curmudgeon thinks so too, but that would be — gasp! — viewpoint discrimination, which is something that creationists always oppose, as does Hastings in San Francisco.

Shouldn’t WND, as a creationist newspaper, be agreeing with Hastings’ policy, and cheering this Supreme Court decision? It’s just what creationists have been praying for — a decision holding that an unpopular viewpoint can’t be Expelled.

In The Meaning of ICR’s Courtroom Defeat, we synthesized the creationists’ “viewpoint discrimination” argument from several ostensibly distinct cases:

[W]hen you get right down to it, every one of these cases involves the same thing — creationists claiming a constitutional right to force their way into places where, by definition, they don’t belong.

There may be a reasonable case to be made against some instances of “viewpoint discrimination” (hereafter VD). It could take a month of dedicated effort to plow through all the leading court cases on the subject of VD. We don’t have the time for that; therefore, we’re going to give this a very light treatment, based only on what we’ve learned from creationist cases.

One of the principal rhetorical tools of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids) is screeching about VD whenever their version of creationism is rejected. They do this because they think it positions them in the sympathetic role of discriminated minorities seeking their civil rights. Their technique, however, amounts to abuse of the language of rights.

Creationists’ misuse of VD lies at the heart of the Coppedge case against Jet Propulsion Laboratory, alleging, in essence, that JPL has no right to “discriminate” against a creationist computer technician who demands the “freedom” to evangelize his co-workers with creationism.

It’s also at the heart of the Institute of Creation Research’s recent case — a failed attempt by ICR to force Texas to sanction their “science education” degrees. In an earlier post about that case we said:

But can there be “viewpoint discrimination” in the context of science education? How can someone teach science if his viewpoint is anti-science? Is it unfair discrimination to deem him unfit? That’s what this case is all about.

And in this post, discussing ICR’s attempted analogy to racial discrimination, we said:

[T]here are indeed genuine instances of irrational, unjust discrimination; and then there are situations where distinctions are very real, and recognizing them makes perfect sense. Knowing the difference requires what we call thinking.

Creationist complaints about VD appear in almost all their litigation. We wrote ACSI v. Stearns: Creationists Lose Again, about a case in which the Association of Christian Schools International sued the University of California system, claiming that UC’s refusal to recognize various high school level creationist courses “constitutes viewpoint discrimination, content discrimination, and content-based regulation, which conflict with the First Amendment.” Amusingly, Michael Behe was the creationists’ “expert” who testified about that “discrimination.” See: Behe in ACSI v. Roman Sterns.

But wait a minute! If the creationists are always so keen to complain about VD, what do we make of the WND article with which we began that post? Aren’t they being inconsistent? Yes, of course they are. But that’s only a problem for rational people, not creationists.

In this episode of our “Stupid Driven” series we gave a name to a useful intellectual technique of creationists — the great contradiction nullifier:

A creationist asserts that because everything needs a cause, logic requires us to believe that his magical Designer must have initially caused things to happen. But he then insists that his Designer needs no cause, and he brushes aside the glaring inconsistency by deploying his all-purpose contradiction nullifier: Ah, but that’s different!

The Nullifier is very useful to creationists, because contradictions abound in creationism. That’s certainly the situation with VD — they can do it; you can’t. For example, some religious sects, when small and insecure, are thrilled to enjoy the religious freedom that exists in the US. See: Jefferson’s 1802 Letter to the Danbury Baptists, which said:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

But sometimes those very same sects, if they become large and politically influential, mutate into theocracy cults with dreams of controlling the government, and suddenly — there was never any such thing as separation of church and state. If asked why they’re contradicting themselves, they’ll whip out the Nullifier and reply: Ah, but we’re different!

This has gone on long enough. We’ll wrap this up by offering a few Curmudgeonly conclusions:

1. The “viewpoint discrimination” complaint, when made by creationists or any other pseudo-science group, is nothing but an expression of their unhappiness at the just and proper application of reason.

2. If one has no capacity to select among various viewpoints, he has no mind.

3. If one has no freedom to exercise that capacity, he has no life.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “The Rational Necessity of Viewpoint Discrimination

  1. Gabriel Hanna

    It’s a good questions. Student groups at public universities are funded at least in part by public money; maybe they shouldn’t have the right to limit their membership.

    They are, of course, still totally free to start an off-campus organization and to talk to their fellow students about joining it. They may or may not be free to have the public subsidize them.

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head with your #1. The WND/creationist VD complaint in this case comes from the fact that they were treated like everyone else. They would’ve been perfectly happy with the unconstitutional result whereby CLS could limit membership but other clubs couldn’t if it involved rejection of CLS members.

    But either type of ‘fair’ policy – (1) clubs are free to limit membership, including your club AND clubs which don’t want you as members, or (2) clubs can’t limit membership – would’ve got a bad review from the fundies. Fair treatment is not what they want.

    And while (1) could be constitutional too, I can understand why the court ruled (2) is; no entanglement.

  3. eric says:

    The WND/creationist VD complaint in this case comes from the fact that they were treated like everyone else.

    That’s no way to treat people who have The TRVTH.

  4. Just a note – groups are free under the policy to organize and exclude whoever they wish. They just become ineligible for their share of University provided money. This is a case where the right of the group to practice “viewpoint discrimination” conflicts with other students rights to not pay for a group that discriminates against, say, them. This decision by the court seems reasonable.

  5. Kevin says:

    Just a note – groups are free under the policy to organize and exclude whoever they wish. They just become ineligible for their share of University provided money.

    Interesting. That makes the WND position even crazier than I thought.

  6. retiredsciguy

    This is about your earlier post re: NC Billboard —
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ynews/ynews_ts2936
    I’m surprised it took as long as it did.

  7. SC: editorial warning – Surely you meant
    “… suddenly there was NEVER any such thing as separation of church and state. If asked why they’re contradicting themselves, they’ll whip out the Nullifier and reply: Ah, but we’re different!” ??

    regards
    Meyers

  8. J. Meyers says:

    Surely you meant “… suddenly there was NEVER any such thing …”

    Arrrggghhhh! All fixed now. Thanks.