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. Kevin Cantu

    If you want to open up a chapter on a public campus then you have to abide by their rules and I know those of you who are of the religious aspect don't want to accept that but in this country any type of discrimination whether by religious organizations or even by a university will be shot down.Then again I'm surprised I'm not hearing that SOS about activist judges by those on the right?!?

    June 28, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Double J

    previous @Collin

    June 28, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. marcus

    Wow, God may not be an angry or jealous God (He certainly was described as such in the Old Testament), but some of his followers sure seem to be these days. I guess the old coined phrase, "they will know we are Christians by our love", is out. Now it's just plain old, "they will know we are Christians by our sheer sense of anger and complete inability to tolerate others that we disagree with". After all, Jesus commanded of his disciples that they discriminate and judge others because of their individual sins. Wait, that doesn't sound right does it?

    June 28, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Scott

    First, this group is not being forced to cease to exist as many claim. Second, they are free to continue to discriminate. This decision states that PUBLIC MONEY cannot be given to groups that discriminate. This group is free to obtain all the PRIVATE funding it wants.

    June 28, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. murrow

    I suspect these 30 students and Christian right are the future C Streeters of tomorrow.
    Like we don't have more than our share of fanatics already.

    June 28, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Billy

    I think we need to clear out all three brances of goverment and start over and get this back to what our forefathers founded.

    June 28, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DSolomon

    There, now you liberals can no longer complain the Court is part of some vast, right-wing conspiracy

    June 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kermit Roosevelt

    This is great. This cracks open the secrecy of most campus Muslim organizations as well, which is where a lot of radicalism is born. If they, too, are prevented from allowing women who refuse to wear the hijab or (heaven forfend) curious infidels, their whole extremist agenda will lose momentum.

    June 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kermit Roosevelt

      Oops, crossed myself up there. I should have said "prevented from excluding". More coffee, please.

      June 28, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. luke

    Cut off anything Christian, and take over the internet. Just another step toward socialism under obama.

    June 28, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Scytherius

    Good. There should be no state funding of religion, period. If this were a private club, do what you want, but it was a state funded school

    June 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Death Panel Sarah

    Alex.... if you WERE educated, you would see that there doesn't HAVE to be a maker. Everything that is understood about the universe by SCIENCE can happen naturally, without help!!!

    June 28, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joel

    Thank you Ruth for NOT being a closed-minded separatist like some of your fellow Judges!

    June 28, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. max

    how about, dont fund any groups. let them raise their own money? pretty simple.

    this whole argument is very different if its not about a christian group. i have nothing against christians, other than i wouldnt want to spend eternity with most of them.

    June 28, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. GP

    Snark ON –

    We wanted to get our Sons of Islam organization recognized by the university, but they denied us. We claimed that only devote Muslims may join. We were accused of discrimination.

    Snark OFF-

    Does this example illustrate the argument?

    If the university was not receiving American tax dollars there would have been no case.

    June 28, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. HawaiiGal

    The great things about our system are that :

    1. A federally funded organization may not discriminate in membership.

    2. That a private organization which does not receive funds can be anything it wants as long as it is not doing illegal activities. It just has to fund itself. No one can force it not to exist. If you look at the human rights violations in other countries, you begin to realize just how special this right is.

    June 28, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
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