Retro recruiting

March 08, 2006

The Supreme Court's unanimous opinion that colleges and universities cannot prevent the military from recruiting on campus is a pointed reminder that when schools take federal funds, Congress can make them play by its rules. But while the military has won the battle to recruit students, it should lose the fight to keep openly gay people out of its ranks.

For about a decade, a number of law schools have objected to the military's discriminatory policy regarding gays by trying to restrict access of military recruiters to their students. Congress, which sanctioned the discrimination, then passed a series of measures known as the Solomon Amendment that put universities at risk of losing certain federal funds if any part of the institution denied military recruiters the same access, in quality and scope, as other recruiters. At stake is as much as $35 billion a year that colleges and universities receive from the federal government.

As long as schools choose to continue receiving those funds, the Solomon Amendment forces them to ignore their anti-discrimination policies, just as gays and lesbians are forced to keep their sexual orientation to themselves as part of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" charade. One consolation is that the military is not only exposed but often confronted directly by the generally more tolerant attitudes found in academia and among other recruiters.

That should not stop as a result of this week's Supreme Court ruling. In his opinion for the court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. rejected the law schools' contention that the Solomon Amendment violates their First Amendment rights regarding free speech and association. But while Congress imposed restrictions on what schools could do - namely, not give military recruiters short shrift relative to other recruiters - it did not restrict what schools could say. The court made it clear that schools remain free to send their own messages - through posters, organized student protests or other forms of speech - that are aimed at countering the military's intolerance.

Ideally, however, schools no longer would have to take on that burden. It's high time for the military to recognize fully the service and sacrifice of gays and lesbians and allow them to serve openly and proudly.

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