NEW YORK (Aug. 29)
A Jewish legal aid society is supporting a Jesuit university in Washington, D.C. in its refusal to give “university recognition” to two homosexual student groups which contend that such a refusal violates a local human rights measure.
The suit before a lower court in the District of Columbia, which rejected the discrimination complaint, and which is now before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, is believed to be the first of its kind, according to Dennis Rapps, executive director of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), which filed a friend of the court brief in support of the university’s position.
Rapps said the brief, though it involved COLPA in a legal battle in which neither contestant was Jewish, was nevertheless in conformity with the agency’s commitment to the principle that a university is protected by the First Amendment from any pressure to endorse positions hostile to the school’s philosophy.
In the first legal test of the issue, Justice Sylvia Bacon of the D.C. Superior Court ruled on October 14, 1983, that the local Human Rights Act, if enforced as the Gay People of Georgetown University and the Gay Rights Coalition of Georgetown University Law Center wanted, would undermine the normative teachings of the Roman Catholic church and would therefore place “an impermissible burden on the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
The COLPA brief, dratted by COLPA member Elliot Hoffman of New York, contended that “religious institutions cannot be required to give recognition to positions or practices which violate long and deeply-held tenets and this protection is of constitutional dimension.”
In indicating COLPA’s reasons for its unusual involvement in the case, the brief declared that “a homosexual lifestyle and homosexual practices are not only inimical to Jewish Law and practice but also, as a result of the direct teaching of the Bible, the subject of particular oppobrium.”
Rapps said the university does not discriminate against homosexual individuals in admissions, employment and promotion, student housing, financial aid, class assignments, athletic programs, grants of honors or awards, use of the university’s placement service or in any related way.
The gay student groups are permitted freely to exist and to carry on activities on campus — to hold meetings, to invite guest speakers, to advertise their activities in university publications and on campus bulletin boards — and they have done so, Rapps said.
He declared that what has been denied them is official “university recognition” and possible financial support which, as the lower court found, is defined by the university as “the endorsement of … activities undertaken by a specific club” and which requires that an organization aid “the university’s educational mission.”
The COLPA brief declared that “while COLPA does not presume to understand the nature of Catholic teaching on homosexuality, it does share a common concern with Georgetown University that the constitutionally-protected teaching of any religion not be compromised by a compulsion from any source, to accept homosexuality as an approved form of social behavior.”
The brief argued also that the lower court rejection of the suit properly protected the First Amendment rights of Georgetown University from the “attempted intrusion” by the D.C. legislation.