Two strange rulings

Laws are written. People file claims in court. And the courts interpret the law, in sometimes unexpected ways.

This week, I saw two of these unexpected interpretations from US courts: one good, one bad. The bad will rile me up, and may do so to you as well, so we will start with the good:

cheerleaderThe Globe and Mail has reported that a court has declared cheerleading to be a contact sport.

My first reaction was one of bafflement and surprise. How does one consider this to be the case? Upon reading the article, a better question would have been why?

The ruling was regarding a law which provides protection to participants of contact sports from litigation: If you tackle someone while playing rugby, and that someone is injured, you cannot sue. Cheerleading is now a contact sport under that law.

This is a good law, although one with fuzzy limits (as all of those who recall the Bertuzzi-Moore affair can attest to), and it is a good interpretation of that law. In this case, one participant was expected to make contact with another in a certain fashion (and catch them). They failed to do so, but this was neither by design nor negligence.

Holding someone liable in such an instance would be like suing somebody for committing a foul in basketball, or a holding penalty in American football or hockey. Yes, it was wrong, but it is also a normal part of the activity in question.

While many would wonder at identifying cheerleading as a sport, and many more at dubbing it a contact sport, it actually makes a lot of sense from the standpoint of the law.

So, with the good covered we turn to the bad.

I came across this second one via Adam P Knave’s blog. The issue is this: At a religious school, it was suspected that two girls were lesbians. They were expelled, sued the school … and the school won.

Wait, wait. I know it sounds bad, but let’s look closer. It was actually for having a “bond of intimacy” that the school felt was “characteristic of a lesbian relationship.” The school’s attorney pointed out that their MySpace pages showed the two hugging. What has this world come to?

More from the attorney: The school’s purpose is to “teach Christian values in a Christian setting pursuant to a Christian code of conduct.”

usa_gayThe school’s profile says that it will “deal with each student as a redeemed child of God, offering counseling, encouragement, and loving Christian discipline”. According to one of the girls, during the disciplinary meeting the principal “looked at me like I was a disease and I was so wrong.” Sounds loving to me.

I wonder how many they’ve expelled for taking the Lord’s name in vain? That’s one of the big ten, right? It must be more important than hugging your friend.

So why did the school win? Because they are a non-profit organisation, and not a business.

For those of you looking to get more riled up about the school (though the judges come off well), the decision is available here. It is an unpleasant read, but probably correct to a strict reading of the law. So the “bad” here looks more like a bad rule than a bad ruling. (Says the person who is neither a legal expert nor familiar with California law).

On the bright side? The California Constitution … prohibits any public support for a school controlled by any religious creed, church, or sectarian denomination, including any grant of personal property or real estate. So at least you aren’t paying for it.

The down side? The discrimination portion of that document only prohibits private schools from discriminating on the basis of disability. Any other form of discrimination is tacitly endorsed, though not funded.

And California is considered to be a progressive state.