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Richard Armitage and freedom of assembly

February 3, 2015

I just highlighted a creationist microscopist who was (allegedly) fired from California State-Northridge for his religious beliefs. There were a few links in my last post you could click through. Here’s one passage from the article in Nature I found interesting (emphasis added):

If Armitage made his living bending metal in a machine shop, an employer would find it difficult to show how his views caused undue hardship, she says. But in an academic setting, telling biology or palaeontology students that life began only a few thousand years ago more clearly undermines the institution’s goals. “It would be an easier showing of undue hardship,” says Lisser, “because it’s more related to the essence of what the person is doing.”

I wonder how far an institution can go in defining and enforcing its goals. Does this situation fall under freedom of assembly? Why or why not? Somewhat ironically, the CSU system itself de-recognized Christian groups because they wouldn’t allow non-Christians to attain positions of leadership. But wouldn’t allowing non-Christians to lead a Christian fellowship undermine their institutional goals?

I suspect I’m reaching. The case law, statutory and regulatory requirements may be very different in these situations. I wonder if a smart legal scholar could explain if and how they are. And if these situations are actually very similar; if CSU is straightforwardly applying the principle of freedom of assembly to make their case, I hope said smart legal scholar will call out their hypocrisy.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Rubble permalink
    February 3, 2015 7:11 pm

    It may well be a moot point. CSU is denying everything and has ten points of affirmative defense, according to defendants’ response. The case number is BC552314 and may be viewed in summary at no charge at http://www.lacourt.org/casesummary/ui/casesummary.aspx?

    • February 3, 2015 9:57 pm

      Thanks for this. Appreciate it!

    • Agellius permalink
      February 4, 2015 4:49 pm

      Well, of course they’re denying everything and raising every possible affirmative defense. Why not? Affirmative defenses are free. They’re basically saying, “We deny everything, we did nothing even remotely wrong, the plaintiff is making everything up and it’s actually his fault.” That’s standard procedure and gives no indication how the lawsuit will turn out. It’s still early in the case and the trial is not set to take place until April 2016.

  2. Victor permalink
    February 14, 2015 12:10 pm

    Yes, I agree with Agellius. I would not expect anything else.

    However, Praj it might be good to explicate a bit more the freedom of assembly. Are you referring to the right of the professor to assemble a group of students to talk about science and share views? Is that where you see freedom of assembly factoring into this?

    • February 14, 2015 6:09 pm

      Really good question. What I’m saying is that a university can choose to fire certain people because keeping them on staff would violate their core mission. So why can’t Christian groups restrict leadership to Christians because having non-Christians in leadership positions would violate their mission. What makes those situations different? I quoted that one passage because it seemed to invoke freedom of assembly type arguments.

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