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. Bruce

    I am a Christian, and was getting very angry when I read this article until I read that the group is looking for funding from a public university funded by taxpayers. We shouldn't have taxpayers funding any one type of religous affiliation. If this decision went the other way, then we could conceivably be funding any kind of religion no matter how extreme their views may be and that should not be either. This was the right ruling.

    June 28, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mallory

    two things. Why would anybody that DIDN"T share these beliefs want to be part of the group?? 2 as long as they can still hold their meetings and whatnot why does being an "official" group matter??

    June 28, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Marcus

    Just another example of anti-Christian bigotry from the 4 God-hating left wing wacko justices and the squishy milquetoast Kennedy. Why shouldn't groups who discriminate get public funding? Planned Parenthood get public funding but does not allow pro-life people to give counseling to women who are attempting to get abortions. That's discrimination.

    June 28, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. G. Joseph

    Without arguing the points of the legal ruling, those that disagree with this holding, instead of sending donations to U.C. Hasings College of the Law, may send your donations directly to the Christian Campus Group. That way your private monies do not become public monies and the College has no control over it. Former Graduate of U.C. Hastings.

    June 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Paul

    Look at it this way, anti gay people should be able to join the GLBT groups. I wonder what would happen in that case?

    June 28, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John Lane

    Based on this decision, it would appear that Christian or other religious groups that are approving of gay/lesbian activities would be able to obtain campus recognition, with associated funding, while Christian or other religious groups that are disapproving of such activities would not. The latter group would include many smaller and some major Christian groups – namely many smaller Protestant groups, and the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church – these are groups that allow gays/lesbians to attend services, but not to participate fully in the church's activities or leadership. They, or clubs adhering to their teachings, would henceforth be denied such recognition on account of their beliefs and practices.

    June 28, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. anonymous

    Billy Bob wrote – "lol – what? how did they discriminate against anyone? apparently you are ignorant on the definition of the word."

    "I am a Christinan' is discrimination, friend. Pehaps YOU do not understand the meaning of the word? Get a dictionary.

    June 28, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. billyk43

    So, according to CNN reporting, the supreme court has a "conservative majority" when rejecting Chicago's gun ban, yet I find no reference to their makeup as a liberal majority in regards to this decision. Hmmm.....

    June 28, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. anonymous

    Any bonehead who is ignorant enough to call himself a 'christian' must have some serious behavorial issues.

    June 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dan

    This is the right ruling. No one is saying they can't have a club, just that they can't discriminate.

    Maybe this will require the Catholic Church to admit pedophiles to its ranks. Oh, wait...

    June 28, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John Lane

    To those who are saying that religious groups should not obtain funding anyway: first of all, it is not just funding, it is recognition. Perhaps it would include facilities – a room to meet in, for example.

    Now, the SC has established that groups cannot be discriminated against because they are religious. In other words, if a public school allows a chess club and a Future Business Leaders club to meet in school facilities after school, they cannot deny the same right to groups whose activity happens to be religious – since if they did, it would be discrimination against religion.

    If I understand correctly, it's on that basis that religious groups were able to obtain recognition and perhaps some money from the student activities fund. That seems right to me. Except that now they are excluding from it those groups that have certain religious beliefs and practices – namely, those that don't allow gays and lesbians in their core membership and leadership positions. Thus they are saying some religious practices and beliefs are OK, and others are not OK.

    June 28, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. h

    As long as there are no black clubs or women's clubs then I guess it's fine. Oh wait....

    Hypocrites.

    June 28, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. julie

    So as a white person I can expect to gain admittance to african american clubs, as a woman I can expect to be admitted to fraternaties, as a christian I can become a officer in the muslim group, as an out of shape person I can get on the football team,

    June 28, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. thomas

    Its a great thing thing that the schools Moslem group was not required to admit gay members. Lets hold Moslems to a low standard .

    June 28, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. John Gerson

    Let all believers refuse to pay taxes to the state, I bet the state changes its mind pronto.

    June 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
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