The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from a Christian student group that had been denied recognition by a public law school in California for excluding homosexuals and nonbelievers. The case pits anti-discrimination principles against religious freedom.
The group, the Christian Legal Society, says it welcomes all students to participate in its activities. But it does not allow students to become voting members or to assume leadership positions unless they affirm what the group calls orthodox Christian beliefs and disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” Such a lifestyle, the group says, includes “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.”
The law school, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, part of the University of California, allows some 60 recognized student groups to use meeting space, bulletin boards and the like so long as they agree to a policy that forbids discrimination on various grounds, including religion and sexual orientation. The school withdrew recognition from the Christian group after it refused to comply with the policy.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, ruled in favor of Hastings in March.
“Hastings imposes an open membership rule on all student groups — all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group,” a three-judge panel of the court said in a brief unsigned decision . “The conditions on recognition are therefore viewpoint neutral and reasonable.”
The question of how to reconcile anti-discrimination principles with religious freedom in the context of public higher education “is a recurring and pervasive national problem,” the student group told the justices in a brief urging them to hear the case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.