- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

The U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided to halt enforcement of a federal statute known as the Solomon Amendment. Simply, the statute required colleges and universities receiving federal funds to provide military recruiters the same access to students as other on-campus recruiters.

This decision means, in effect, that educational institutions no longer risk losing federal support if military recruiters are barred from their campuses. Within days of the announcement, the Harvard Law School faculty agreed to bar military recruiters from the school.

Years before the Solomon Amendment was enacted, many colleges noted that military recruiters were not welcome, a residual effect of the Vietnam War and a contention the military allows discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In 1993 President Clinton signed into law a provision requiring the military to enforce “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which discreetly permits discrimination without identifying it as such.

With the court decision, universities may not lose federal funding for the stand they take. But inadvertently, I suspect, the decision changes the nature of the academy as an open and free environment in which different points of view and approaches can be entertained.

Those who pay the real cost of this decision are men and women who may want to serve in the military. Moreover, the nation is adversely affected when a significant portion of the student population is not given access to military recruiters and to future career opportunities.

Clearly, the military has a justifiable desire to recruit on campuses to attract the best and brightest to its ranks. This includes lawyers who are advisers to servicemen and -women as well as infantrymen who make decisions in combat.

The 3rd Circuit, in striking down the Solomon Amendment, ruled the law violates the First Amendment rights of universities by requiring them to disseminate the military’s pro-recruitment message. Yet it is obvious that in circulating the military’s message, universities do not necessarily signal approval of military policies. For example, giving military recruiters access to a university facility does not mean the university endorses discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Universities at all times had the right to ban military recruiters, notwithstanding the Solomon Amendment. What they could not do was have their cake and eat it too. If they wished to stand on their principle, they had to forgo federal funding.

It was and is a question of determining what is more valuable: federal support or a latitudinarian antidiscrimination policy. The price for speech is a lesson all university students should learn.

That the Solomon Amendment is not a direct statutory command should be obvious to anyone, including the 3d Circuit judges. The argument that a government benefit should not accompany relinquishing a constitutional right rings hollow. A university can always bar military recruiters from campus.

The real issue, as I see it, is that the college campus as a sanctuary for openness has been converted into a center for radical orthodoxy. In the vanguard of the “new” university is first and foremost homosexual rights, even if the process of recognizing them restructures the university itself.

In the first line of defense for radical university activism is the shield of academic freedom. For the framers of radical opinion, academic freedom is the trump card to be used whenever duty, fair play or free exchanges are introduced. The campus as a place where all opinions have a voice is such an antiquated idea it is barely recalled by a new breed of academics and, if recent events are any indication, it will be interred by judicial action.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and the John M. Olin Professor of Humanities at New York University. He is the author of the recently published book, “Decade of Denial” (Lexington Books).

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