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. damiao


    June 28, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. Thank you Justice Ginsburg

    This is a public university and as such the christian parasites have no right to discriminate. The evangelical vermin keeps insisiting that this nation was founded on "christian" values – an oxymoron to being with- twisting and re-writing history. The truth is that they feel threatened by anything that doesn't agree with their sky daddy or bible because ultimately they don't really believe their own nonsense. In their blind arrogance they believe that we can't have morals without their sick and twisted religion.

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

      Dude, blind arrogance seems to be in ample supply on all sides, including yours. Listen to your own rant. Lets discuss based on something rather than vitriol.

      June 28, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Gary

    Folks, this isn't about religion. It isn't about discrimination. It's about money.

    You can organize a club of Nazi skinheads, a white-only club, whatever. What you can't do is then expect public funding.

    From the CNN stricle on the original filing of this lawsuit:

    " . . ..the Christian Legal Society, which wants recognition from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law as an official campus organization with school financing and benefits."

    The school didn't prohibit their existence. It only refused to pay for it, for that's what "recognotion" would heve requred.

    To continue, from that report:


    The Christian group could require knowledge of the Bible to join, Garre [the lawyer for the university] said. "There is a fundamental difference between excluding people on the basis of merit and excluding people on the basis of status or belief that has no connection to merit," he said.

    A federal judge in Montana said in May 2009 that the University of Montana law school did not discriminate against the Christian Legal Society when it refused to give the group Student Bar Association money because of its policies.



    June 28, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  4. concerned citizan

    To all of those who are posting about this country being founded on "christian" principles, let's remember this. The people who founded this country did so to escape the opressive rule of a government corrupted by the "christian" church. Do we really want to go back to a time where the government allowed the church to use scare tactics to keep the uneducated poverty stricken and subsurviant to the elitist religious orginization of the era? With that said, the ruling was completely out of line. I'm sure the school has other groups or associations (most likely academic) that preclude their membership to a select few who meet their criteria. I think everyone just needs to grow up. It's nothing personal. They aren't discluding you, they just aren't including you because you don't share the same interests and views. It's not because the christians hate you.

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

      The didn't come here to escape government corrupted by the church they came to escape the church corrupted by the government. It was the Anglican church in England that was an extension of the government not the other way around.

      June 28, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gregg S

      It's time to dust the cobwebs from your grade school diploma. They came here to escape religious persecution so that they could CONTINUE to practice their religious beliefs without interference from the govt. of England. The early arrivals were very much a Christian ensemble who worshipped according to a strict Biblical doctrine. Remember the word 'Puritans'?

      June 28, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Buddah2112

    Tax ALL religions!

    June 28, 2010 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Gregg S

      Good idea, let's start with people who use Buddah in their online user id.

      June 28, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. gerardo custodio

    You know its funny, even the comments you people (those choosing which comments go up or not) pick to put up are mainly focused on tearing down the christian faith and putting up some peoples comments that really are just hating on christians, I guess to you being "PC" means don't hate anyone except christians, I guess pc means persecute christians, seriuously this nation has more crap coming to it than we can imagine. Good luck with your humanistic way of life, won't get you anywhere but it sure will be one hell of a ride... Literally cnn is a load of crap, journalism always has been and always will be dirty, all I'm saying that this country is supposed to hear everyone and that's the last thing we do

    June 28, 2010 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. Allen, SD

    Now that such language has been upheld by the court there can no longer be any women's only clubs, sports teams, etc. About time. Now let's end the CBC, Hispanic caucus, etc.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  8. Brian

    When anything goes to the Supreme court and it doesn't makes sense as to why you need only ask yourself one question, "How is money involve?" The real key here is in the charitable tax exempt status and public funding for a religious group. Ofcourse if all these Christian groups were actually following the instructions of their name sake they'd be giving all their money to the poor instead of asking for charity via the tax payers.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. mblazer

    I must be missing something here. So the law school denied it(this group) official recognition because the student organization limits its core membership to those who share its beliefs on faith and marriage.

    So do the College Democrats at this school allow college republicans into it's "core" membership or do they limit that core membership to college democrates? I'm not sure what's really going on here...

    June 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • xxception

      It goes further than that. Think: Black Engineers Society, Hispanic Journalists of America, Muslim Lawyers Society. Why would these type of groups, that are prevelant on almost every college campus in the U.S. not be subject to the same rules?

      June 28, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ginger K.

    Bravo! If churches want to discriminate, let them do so at their own locations.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. notyourname

    What about performance groups? Are they required to allow membership to people who can't sing/play music/dance/act?

    June 28, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. xxception

    This could have far-reaching consequences. Almost every college in American has a "Black Engineers" or "Black Lawyers", etc, group or many groups. When I was in school at Georgia Tech, I attempted to join the Black Engineers Society. (For clarity, I am 1/32 of African descent) I was denied entry to this group solely on the color of my skin. How can these groups be allowed to continue to discriminate and others not? Discrimination is discrimination, no matter who is doing it.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Scott

    So what the Court and School are saying is, "We will not allow particular members to join OUR group that don't let particular members join their group."

    Their is a double standard that needs to be applied. You will exclude members that exclude members. Is this not a bit hypocritical?

    June 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. In Science We Trust

    I eagerly wait for PAT ROBERTSON, God's mouthpiece on Earth, to say something stupid regarding this ruling. His score on predicting bad things to strike the godless is pretty bad, however, since nothing has happened to DOVER, PENN where Judge Jones ruled against the Christians in the Intelligent Design vs. Science teachers lawsuit. God's wrath just ain't what it used to be!

    June 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ziuric

    The court decided based on the fact that the University gets public funds, whic can not be used to discriminate or to promote religious beliefs. So the groups who apply if recognized will recieve public funds, from our tax money. So the court made a great assesment of the controversy at hand, and clarified it for everyone. Separation of Church and State, if the group wants to associate it can, it's their right, but not funded with tax payer money, it's pretty simple.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
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