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. silvertop

    Are there requirements by Muslim student groups that members have to believe in the Qoran and Allah?

    June 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Law Student

    I wonder if "strict constructionists" are stating that Republicans are liberals. Currently on the high-court, 6 of the 9 justices have been placed there by Republican presidents. Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, and Stevens.

    Furthermore, one of the foremost legal thinkers in the history of the law and the most cited in current law (and a conservative), Richard Posner, rated all the SOTUS judges since 1937 based on their rulings from most conservative to liberal. 4 out of the top 5 most conservative judges are currently on the court. Only one current justice is currently on the court that is in the top 10 most liberal: #9 Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Check it out: http://politics.usnews.com/news/national/articles/2008/05/12/ranking-the-politics-of-supreme-court-justices.html

    So are Republican presidents liberals or are conservatives misinformed?

    We all have personal beliefs. There is no such thing as "strict constructionist".

    June 28, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mbabs

    i cant figure out WHY oh why all the gay folks in san fran dont want to give their tax dollars to this christian group who will then exclude them from their would be tax dollar funded group. I dont get it. its just so complicated.

    June 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Phil

    Bad decision.

    June 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mbabs


    June 28, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jon O

    huh... funny to see the Christian groups crying discrimination...


    June 28, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Larry

    Clubs which espouse particular religious or political views which exclude others should not be taking school/taxpayer money. Schools should not be in the business of sponsoring such clubs.

    June 28, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MJ

    Take that you dirty Christians!

    June 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Accepted George

    This does not surprise me one bit. As time passes on, we see more & more Christians (and Christ for that matter) being excluded from everything. We also see other groups, whether they be radical, fundamentalist or just plainly non-Christian, being accepted more and more in places and in situations where Christian organizations are rejected. And for those of us that know the Bible, we should know and expect this will only get worse. Not to get religious on all of you, but all I can say is, that Christ, who was dying on the cross, prayed for "everyone that know not what they do". And believe it or not, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg knows not what he does. he'll realize this sooner or later.

    June 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • MJ

      Ruth is a woman you moron. This was the right ruling. Take your religious crap and move.

      June 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Trash

    Crash and burn christianity. crash and burn.

    To exclude because of religion, or lack of same, is abhorrent. The court did just fine. Scares me that it was only 5-4.

    June 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kevin

    So, if a white man wanted to join the UCLA African Sisters group, that would be okay too right? After all, not allowing them in is discrimination isn't it?

    June 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Vince

    Be careful CNN, your bias is showing. In McDonald v City of Chicago you stated the "conservative" majority overturned the lower court, but you failed to mention the liberal leanings of the justices in the above case. Granted, Justice Kennedy was appointed by President Reagan. But, like his fellow Reagan appointee Justice O'Connor, he has not been a reliable vote for the right. He has shown wisdom and the ability to not include ideology in his judgement. Something that is lacking in the rest of the court. The remaining 8 justices are reliable votes for the party that appointed them. So CNN, if you're going to toss around labels, do so with balance. Or don't do it at all.

    June 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bailoutsos

    "I would not join any group that would have me as a member." -- Groucho Marx

    June 28, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Alexa Gomez

    Jesus: Just a nice Jewish boy who lived with his mother, hung out with sailors and wore a dress and long hair, quote" "To enter the Kingdom of Heaven, thou must enter through me". Hmmm...

    June 28, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sue

    So anyone can be in the Varsity Club?

    June 28, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
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