In its landmark 2000 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America had a First Amendment right to exclude gay troop leaders from its organization. Ironically, it is this same disturbing precedent that has helped protect the right of public universities to protest the military’s discriminatory policy against homosexuals by barring military recruiters from campuses. The government should respect a public institution’s right to claim autonomy from the state — both financially and politically.
The 1995 Solomon Amendment enables the government to withhold federal funds to any school that refuses to allow military recruiters equal access to students on campuses. The amendment saw frequent enforcement because many university campuses, including the University’s Law School, limited military recruiters’ access to their career offices. The military was barred from recruitment on certain college campuses because its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on homosexuality prevents the career offices of the universities’ schools from adhering to universities’ nondiscrimination clauses.
This past fall the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Solomon Amendment to be unconstitutional, which set off a firestorm from conservatives on Capitol Hill. In a Feb. 5 resolution, the U.S. House of Representatives officially chose a side in the ongoing debate — encouraging the Bush administration to contest the court’s most recent ruling.
With mounting pressure at the federal level, the University must do everything in its power to retain its financial and political autonomy. Just as the University has pledged to continue to offer its same-sex employees equal benefits in the wake of Proposal 2, its resolve should remain unbending as this dispute progresses.
Instead of respecting its financial obligations to higher education, the federal government instead has used grants and other subsidies as bargaining chips. The government’s policy of conditioning federal funds on compliance with particular political agendas is coercive and should not influence the financial support a university receives. Furthermore, these conditions not only infringe upon a university’s institutional autonomy, but also its First Amendment right to free expression. The government should never be able to pull federal funds from a university because its beliefs conflict with those of the educational institution — otherwise we run the risk of learning from a federal propaganda system.
If the military is truly in dire need of more recruits, it should promptly re-evaluate its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy — a restriction that excludes openly homosexual individuals from serving in the armed forces. Over 10,000 members of the armed forces have been fired because of their sexual orientation. Despite the critical need for their services, at least 20 Arabic-speaking personnel have been fired over the past five years. If the government is seriously committed to bolstering military readiness, it can start with a closer review of its “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy.
The government should not play politics with the rights of institutions of higher education, especially when the Constitution is at stake.