December 8, 2005
When Liberals Oppose Strong Government
Conservatives have not been models of consistency lately. President
Bush, after all, has vastly enlarged the federal budget, expanded
Washington's role in local school affairs, and signed a campaign
finance bill, even while retaining the allegiance of people who
abhor all these things. But this week liberals had a turn at exhibiting
their, um, confusion.
they have favored using federal power to force universities to
do certain things that some schools would rather not do. An institution
that accepts federal funds, for example, may not discriminate
on the basis of race. Title IX, beloved by feminists, compels
colleges getting such aid to offer equal opportunity for female
students in sports and other activities -- with the feds defining
what constitutes "equal opportunity."
a school disagrees with these mandates? It will get no sympathy
from liberal groups, which invariably reply: Cry me a river. When
you accept public subsidies, they announce, you must defer to
the public's sense of fairness and equity. If you want to do things
your own way, do them with your own money.
But in a
case heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, it appears that the
liberal affection for assertive government has a limit. A law
known as the Solomon Amendment requires universities getting federal
funds to grant access to recruiters for the military on the same
terms as recruiters for any other employer.
schools object, because of the military's exclusion of gays under
its "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and they want the
court to excuse them from this obligation. All of a sudden, they
are smitten with the idea that private institutions should be
allowed to run their campuses as they see fit, rather than be
ordered around by Washington.
want to overturn the law say it violates the First Amendment by
forcing them to promote a message they don't accept -- that discrimination
against gays is acceptable. But they didn't object when Bob Jones
University was punished by the federal government for racial discrimination.
To keep its tax-exempt status, it would have had to stop discriminating,
even though that would have meant promoting a message starkly
at odds with its religious teachings.
insist that combating racial and sexual discrimination is such
a "compelling interest" that the government has more
leeway when they are at stake. But surely there is no government
interest more compelling than defense of the nation from attack,
which the Solomon Amendment serves.
take federal money, you can expect it to come with strings attached.
All the Solomon Amendment requires universities to do is not penalize
military recruiters by barring them from campus or withholding
the assistance given to other employers. The schools remain free
to express their rejection of "don't ask, don't tell"
as often as they want, in any way they choose.
schools say that far from discriminating against the armed forces,
they treat them the same as everyone else: They exclude any employer
that rejects applicants on the basis of sexual orientation. But
other employers have a choice, which the military does not. Its
policy, after all, was established by federal law.
have a beef, it's with Congress and the president, not with the
military. But they seem to have no objection to associating, at
least in a financial way, with the same people who mandated this
discrimination. They merely want to be free to reject the conditions
attached to the government funds -- an option not granted to schools
that prefer to ignore federal commands on race and sex.
are aware that this argument could lead the court down a scary
path. Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, for one, is not confident
that, if the universities win the case, "the Supreme Court
would write an opinion with the delicacy required to strike down
the Solomon Amendment in a way that does not endanger" enforcement
of civil rights laws.
like Bob Jones University, he fears, "might well be able
to generate a 1st Amendment argument" for rejecting federal
dictates. In that case, colleges would have more freedom to set
their own policies on women and minorities.
be a good thing if the federal government were not so aggressive
in using its funding power to coerce universities to follow policies
they may not like. But it's a surprise to hear liberals admitting
2005 Creators Syndicate