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. The Dude

    This group should reimburse the State for the legal costs.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. xxception

    Now lets see if this ruling is applied across the board to groups such as: Black Engineers Society, Hispanic Journalist of America, Muslim Lawyers Society, et al. If you don't think groups such as this discriminate based on race, you are blind and dumb.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • eddie

      that is interesting, but it would be easy to answer your question by looking at the club requirements as well as thier funding. If they are not recieving public funds, they can do almost anything they like

      June 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sameeker

    Does this mean that white students can not be denied scholarships given to blacks and hispanics, or that a donor cannot specify a major for a scholarship? Just a point to consider.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Einherion

      good point. i need scholarships, perhaps i shall try to get the minority specific ones, and as a white male i think i will join the african american womans society for engineers at my public college.
      however if theylet me in i think ill be miserable.....

      June 28, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sweetenedtea

    Stupid Supreme Court, always meddling in our god-given rights to be paid and supported by taxpayers. Now I'm starting to worry about my beloved Brotherhood Aryan Supremacist Doctors group at my medical school. What will happen when some hateful minority decides that he or she doesn't want his or her taxes and fees going to support our blessed crusade and the school stops paying for the vanilla wafers and milk we serve at our meetings in the operating theater?

    It's a slippery slope, you liberal fools, and a sad day for America when state-supported discrimination is considered passe.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. RReese

    The Supreme Court got this one right. And, to argue that a Christian group's freedom of expression has been supressed? That is a laughable argument.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. deeorr

    I wish I could say something that would convince the world that Jesus lives, He loves you all, and there will come a time when you will need Him. This old world has become very wicked, and there will be a day of judgement. May He have mercy on us all

    June 28, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • eddie

      i got an idea, he could just provide evidence of his existence, then I would not have to rel=y on yyour statements alone

      June 28, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Carlton

    I'm so tired of believers in Jesus Christ backing down to the world and unbelievers!!! People who don't know or believe in our GOD, what are you afraid of? Stand up believers in Jesus Christ in your Authority and Power and destroy the works of the devil!!! Don't be afraid of their evil agendas and intentions, but defeat it with in the glory and goodness of our GOD!!! Stand Up Believers!!!

    Pastor Evans

    June 28, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Chris

    Does this mean that a 'black pride' group, an Islamic group, or a gay and lesbian group, would also be denied funding?

    June 28, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ronport

    Funding for these groups generally comes from student fees, not from taxes or any other source. Therefore these students were denied the right to use funds that THEY had paid.

    June 28, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Delta75

    Next up, tax exemptions for relisgious groups.

    June 28, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hunatic

    It is time for all secular Americans to unite against Christian infiltrations into our government. It is going to be painful, especially when they hide behind this "private group" hyperbole. We must move our society toward progress and away from Luddite and fundamentalist forces, lest they keep us technologically handicapped. Our world is moving at a rapid pace, exponentially surging toward a singular change in human lifestyle. Let's not be a third world country, shall we?

    June 28, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Silas Scarborough

      It's already happening. Kids don't believe a word of it.

      June 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Disgusted

    A religious group is banned from campus because of anti-discrimination conflict, yet throughout the U.S. there are black sororities and fraternities that do not permit people of other races in. How's that for anti-discrimination???

    June 28, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin Cantu

      Then why don't you file a lawsuit then?!?That's the problem no one has filed so why don't you go ahead and hire an attorney and get to filing. Simple as that....

      June 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John

    Excellent news!

    June 28, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John

    This is excellent news!

    June 28, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Greg

    Ginsburg and the majority of the court got it right.
    Though a sticky subject and fiercely contested,
    they got it right.
    I find it no suprise that Christian right wing, G.W. Bush picked Chief Justice John Robert dissented.
    He, and ALL devout Christians (or devotees of ANY religion) are utterly incapable
    of true tolerance and/or acceptance of anyone or anything that is not compatible with their narrow dogma.

    June 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
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