June 28th, 2010
10:38 AM ET

Court rules against Christian group in discrimination case

The Supreme Court has ruled against a Christian campus group that sued after a California law school denied it official recognition because the student organization limits its core membership to those who share its beliefs on faith and marriage.

At issue was the conflict between a public university's anti-discrimination policies and a private group's freedom of religion and association.

The 5-4 ruling was written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was on the bench a day after her husband passed away.

The law school, wrote Ginsburg, "caught in the crossfire between a group's desire to exclude and students' demand for equal access, may reasonably draw a line in the sand permitting all organizations to express what they wish but no group to discriminate in membership."

In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, "I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today's decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country." He was supported by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote in this contentious case.

The Christian Legal Society - which has chapters around the country - had sought official recognition from the University of California's law school in San Francisco. The 30-member group is still in existence, even after its application was rejected five years ago.

Any student may attend the group's meetings, but voting members and officers must affirm a "statement of faith," that includes the belief "Christians should not engage in sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman," according to the society's website.

The school says that leads to discrimination which, under law, it cannot sanction.

The court drew sharp lines over how far both the school and the student group must go to claim "institutional autonomy" in their respective policies, and to satisfy conflicting First Amendment claims of free speech and association.

Lawyers for the group say members should have the discretion to hold their own views and ensure their campus leaders share similar religious ideas.

They told the court that the school, Hastings College of the Law, had singled them out for rejection, while recognizing other groups that limit membership to those of shared beliefs.

But the school cited its policy as the main reason for turning down the group's application, saying it should be open to all. The school said the "statement of faith" would essentially keep gays and lesbians from joining.

Groups given official endorsement by the University of California can receive school funding, office space and the freedom to recruit on campus, but may not reject anyone because of sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or other criteria protected under federal and state law.

The case could have broader applications for so-called "charitable choice" programs, where religion-based groups provide social services, often with federal funding. Such a group's tax exemptions and hiring practices could be affected by how the justices apply the law in this school dispute.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco last year ruled against the student group. But a similar lawsuit against Southern Illinois University two years ago was successful, and the Christian Legal Society received official recognition there.

The case was Christian Legal Society Chapter of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law v. Martinez (08-1371).

soundoff (340 Responses)
  1. mrgardon

    "Pagan University" "change lives, and share the truth of the Gospel" what a joke. "Official recognition" what a bunch of drivel. Why does this kinda foolishness even get to the Supreme Court?

    June 28, 2010 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. Alex

    It is laughable to see how those who claim to be Christian think it's okay to discriminate against others. Yes, they're being denied their freedom of speech because they're Christian. Oh brother.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      It is OK to 'discriminate' when you hire someone, you find the best applicant, descriminating against lessor qualified applicant – the choice isn't random, you discriminate based on qualifications. I know you don't like the word, but learn what it means. At the same time, if you are a feminist group, you should have to allow non-feminists to join the group. If you are a christian group, to allow Muslims to join. Because – in doing so – the group may or may not even stay on track for its mission. Do you want to open up women's shelters to men too? The NAACP must accept white supremacists?

      Or can they discriminate – i.e. remain focused on their missions?

      June 28, 2010 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Ranquen

      It's not a matter of "discriminating against others," Alex. It's a matter of setting standards for membership—something every organization does. People of all faiths and walks of life have been free to attend this Christian group's meetings without being discriminated against. Formal membership is simply limited to those who adhere to the tenets of the Christian faith, as it should be. Otherwise, the "Christian" label would cease to have any meaning. Do you honestly suppose for one minute that the many Muslim student groups that meet on campuses across this country would allow Christians and Jews to become group members? Hardly! On the contrary, members of Muslim student groups routinely harass Jewish students with impunity.

      June 28, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Robert

    The fools who believe the jesus christ myth / fairy tale really need to take a look at themselves.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Leah

      It is not a fairy tale but I guess you will not realize that until it is too late!

      June 28, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      oh yes it is. complete foolishness.

      June 28, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • john

      God Bless You All! Sepration of church and state means the stae won't be ran by the church. George Washington started holding church in the white house.
      You can dein Jesus all u want but he'll never dein YOU

      June 28, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • MJ

      Robert, the question is do you at least believe Jesus is a historical figure who lived in Israel, specifically, Galilee, and died on a cross? If not, you can read some of the history books, and even read some of the historical, and reliable writings of Joshephus, and even a few Latin writers of the Roman Empire, writers who did not like Christians such as Tacitus, who speak very negative toward Christ and the Christian sect. So, if you believe he is in fact a historical figure and he died on a cross, then why don't you read the record of who he was and what he did by reading, say, the Gospel of John in the New Testament. Then, after reading, write out here what you think. Just a thought.

      June 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • RMT (Rubbing My Temples!)

      Psalm 14:1-3 (CEV)
      Only a fool would say, "There is no God!"
      People like that are worthless; they are heartless and cruel and never do right.
      From heaven the LORD looks down to see if anyone is wise enough to search for him.
      But all of them are corrupt; no one does right.

      June 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • eddie

      MJ, The writings of Josephus and the others you are referring to were written decades after the supposed jeebus was reported to die. Some scholars have even criticized the Josephus entry as apocryphal, but that aside it was still written sometime in the 90’s if memory serves. The earliest writings about jeebus were the gospels which the earliest dates to around 30 yrs after the gruesome ending is to have happened. Please provided references to any contemporaries (i.e. during the time he was supposed to have lived and performed miracles) of jeebus to have written anything of the wandering prophet in the desert as I know of none. I would be happy for your greater knowledge of the subject to inform me.

      I agree completely with the SC decision and hope that wisdom will continue to win out over ideology.

      June 28, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe R.

      Robert: You would have to have been around since the creation of the world to say whether or not God is real. So, how old are you exactly?

      June 28, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Fernando

    If the 4 Republicans Judges are going to vote the same all the time, maybe we could have only 1 judge with 4 votes and save all that money in salaries.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert


      June 28, 2010 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Barry

      funny you didn't mention the 4 "DEMOCRAT" judges . Odd.

      June 28, 2010 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Maryann Rose - Orlando FL

      LOL! Excellent point!

      June 28, 2010 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. John

    Why would anybody want to belong to a group that has different views then they do in the first place?

    June 28, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      That is the question, isn't it. And the answer, is to harass them.

      June 28, 2010 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Barry

      Good question. I'd guess they wanted to change the organization or shut them up. It seems to me "liberals" are usually the folks wanting to shut people up.

      June 28, 2010 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Justin

      Maybe they are curious to see what they are about?

      June 28, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Alverant

      That's not the question here. The question is why should people have to fund groups that won't let them join.

      Oh and I should point out conservatives are the ones who like to silence people. Remember what they did to Acorn?

      June 28, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. steve

    Hmm. Lemme see. Nothing prohibits the organziation from organizing nor from meeting nor for holding their beliefs nor excluding anyone. Nothing prohibits the school from not recognizing such an organization that does not promote access to and by all.

    Public school, public (meaning all invited) organization. Private organization - it stays that way.

    Too bad the school had to pay those expenses because a club that wanted to exclude others had to sue it. Whether $$$ or just time wasted - play fair or go elsewhere. Just that simple.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Maryann Rose - Orlando FL

      Thank you, Steve. Now if all the bent-out-of-shape Christians would just read your post we could end this whole discussion!

      June 28, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  7. Barry

    The only problem with this ruling is – it sets up a situation where new members can – for all practical purposes- gut the entire organization. It would be akin to KKK members joining a college anti discrimination group and changing the organization to one that supports groups like the KKK. Now the way around this ruling is for church groups to support organizations that share their beliefs so that they don't have to accept any state money. Hopefully that is what will happen then no one can tell them what they have to do.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Sweetenedtea

      Not at all. The group still exists. It can refuse membership to anyone they please. Gays, blacks, verse libres poets, people who only eat Fruit Loops, etc. If they want to require any members to sign a blood oath never to speak a word that cannot be found in the Gospel of John, they're completely within their rights. And if they want to kick out anyone who accidentally quotes Hezekiah, they're also within their rights.

      They just can't have the support of public funds and property whilst doing so.

      June 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Gina

    @ Daniel – Too bad your vision of a nation "founded on Christian faith" doesn't include all of the religious discrimination that people of opposing faiths were put through for hundreds of years. Now, because you're not getting your way for every single thing you cry out at injustice? Take your message underground and keep it with those who would gladly believe in it. Please.

    I don't care what you believe it, it's your choice, but I'll be glad if people stop trying to shove it down the throats of others.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. Michael Wong

    It's pretty sad how conservatives turn "freedom of expression" into "freedom to discriminate against others as a form of religious expression".

    June 28, 2010 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  10. Robert

    poor christians didnt have their right to discriminate sanctioned.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. Eric

    This decision confuses me. Ignoring faith…does this mean that a sorority, an all-female sisterhood, is expected to accept men as members into their student organization?

    June 28, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  12. No Faith

    How can anyone believe in organized religion these days when all they want to do is organize killing. The pope is a pedophile. Muslims want to kill anyone not Muslim. Everyone hates the Jews, at least the Jews think so. Catholics are killing Protestants and vice-versa. This was the right decision and I'm sure it applies to all groups (not just religious) who attempt to limit membership while existing at a PUBLIC school (I guess that means the KKK in Alabama will have to let blacks in). We need to dismantle this obsession with religion before it kills us all. The founding fathers saw that and attempted to create a nation which was NOT based on religion.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      The KKK are a Christian group.

      June 28, 2010 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  13. Robb

    Boy, they're on a roll of good decisions today! Another great decision based on the laws of the land.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ellid

    As others have pointed out, this case does NOT concern a private club. It concerns a student organization at a PUBLIC university requesting recognition and funds.

    And as others have pointed out as well, the United States was NOT founded as a Christian country. Most of the Founders were Deists at best, with Thomas Jefferson regarded as little better than an atheist and George Washington never joining the local church because he would not take communion. David Barton and similar right-wing evangelicals are liars when they say otherwise.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • MJ

      Eliad, that is not true, you cannot say "most"... some of the signers were deists like Franklin and Jefferson, but the majority had a Christian faith whether they were AN = Anglican
      CO = Congregationalist
      DE = Deist
      EP = Episcopal
      PB = Presbyterian
      QU = Quaker
      RC = Roman Catholic
      UN = Unitarian
      Most of these were either Congregationalist, Presbyterian or Episcopal. Only 3 were Deists with about 10 unknow. Now, that does NOT make a "most" does it. Most were Christians.

      June 28, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Emily

    Christ invited all to come unto Him. It is entirely wrong of this group to exclude anyone. Did Christ turn way the adulteress because her morals were not as his. No. These Christians had an opportunity to be an influence for good. I believe the organization could insist on a code of conduct without denying membership to anyone. Wouldn't this have been a better way to illustrate what they stand for? I am a devote Christian, disappointed by this situation. As disciples of Christ we are to do as He did. Love one another.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • stejo

      Thank you! Spoken like someone who's actually studied the teachings of Jesus.

      June 28, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Gena

      As Gandhi so aptly stated " I like your Christ, but I do not care for his christians."

      June 28, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil Z

      Oh, oh. Someone needs to correct Jesus because He frequently spoke of the exclusivity of the Kingdom of God. PS Jesus did not immediately send away the woman caught in adultery, but He clearly instructed her to "Go and sin no more." Those who point out that Jesus was a friend of publicans and sinners as if that meant He was not concerned with pointing them to a life of holiness simply neglect His true purpose in these relationships, which was to preach repentance and faith – not to indulge them in their sinfulness. Also, I am getting weary of the reckless use of the appellation "bigot" to describe those who adhere to a faith which compels them to love as Christ did – that is, too much to let sinners die in their sin. If true Christians were actually hateful, we would just shut our mouths and let the lost die in their sins, and suffer the consequences that Jesus clearly taught would result from an unrepentant life.

      June 28, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
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