Discrimination or First Amendment Rights?

The exclusive Elkridge Country Club in Maryland now is courting its first black members.

The club gave up its Maryland tax breaks in 1977 rather than give its membership list to the state.

Elkridge was forced into the limelight after Maryland Governor Robert Erlich held a fundraiser there in June. The Governor came under fire for appearing at a club that apparently endorses racial discrimination and later urged the club to reconsider its policies.

Elkridge now apparently has admitted its first black members, Baltimore developer Theo Rodgers and his wife Blanche.

In another case, the city of Atlanta apparently has dropped its efforts to force the Druid Hills Golf Club to treat the significant others of its gay members the same way it treats the spouses of heterosexual members.

In find these types of cases (including the ongoing males only issue at Augusta) fascinating because of the constitutional issues they raise. On the one hand, the first Amendment grants us freedom of association (actually, it doesn’t say that, but the courts have extended it). And on the other, we all are guaranteed due process and equal protection.

If the clubs in question were public facilities, or were receiving government breaks, they very clearly couldn’t discriminate. But as private clubs … I really don’t’ know what to say about that.

It’s the kind of discussion that goes on for days in the political science classes I teach. When two constitutional rights are in conflict, which one takes precedent?

I just know that I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that discriminates. My home club is relatively diverse, and that makes it a lot more fun.



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