Supreme Court to hear Christian Legal Society v. Martinez and decide on rights of student groups at public law schools
December 9, 2009
To follow up on a post from eight months ago, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari on (decided to review) the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Christian Legal Society v. Kane [and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law]. (The case has since been renamed “Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.”) According to the Christian Legal Society’s press release, the Supreme Court will “decide whether a public university can refuse to recognize a religious student group because the group requires its leaders to share its religious beliefs.”
I am not sure that that description is precisely accurate. The Ninth Circuit opinion to be reviewed held that the UC Hastings Law School’s policy that “all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group” was constitutionally permissible because it was “viewpoint neutral and reasonable.” The “question presented” in the Supreme Court docket is “Whether the Ninth Circuit erred when it held, directly contrary to the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Christian Legal Society v. Walker, 453 F.3d 853 (7th Cir. 2006), that the Constitution allows a state law school to deny recognition to a religious student organization because the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious viewpoints”, as stated in the CLS’ petition. (Scotusblog reported that the Court will decide “[w]hether a public university law school may deny school funding and other benefits to a religious student organization because the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious viewpoints”.) Of course, none of these quite explain the hot-button point of this whole thing: the CLS wants to officially, as part of its organizational constitution, prevent homosexuals from becoming members or officers of CLS, and Hastings desires not to fund student groups that discriminate against homosexuals.
One slight variation between the press release and the court docket is that the Supreme Court’s term is “core religious viewpoints”, not “religious beliefs,” which could be an important distinction. Another issue I note is that even if Hastings requires all groups to “accept all comers as voting members” (the foundation of the Ninth Circuit’s decision), the CLS student group easily could have done that, and yet still required its officers to fit within the guidelines that the voting members established. If gays, lesbians, and whoever else want to become officers, they can join the CLS and rally a vote to change the guidelines for officers (and law students have much better things to do than join groups and attend meetings just to oppose the missions of those groups and face the hostile arguments that would go with that attempt).
In any event, the Hastings policy really seems ridiculous aside from its discriminatory aspect. The CLS could probably say “anyone who shows up at the Bible study on [date] can vote.” They can spread that message by email to the other CLS members. Who is going to know? Non-Christians will not regularly attend the Bible studies (it’s hard enough to get the Christians to attend them). The policy seems to be a wholly ineffective way to “make a statement” against discrimination.
Moreover, Hastings could eradicate its “official” policy prohibiting recognition of groups that don’t allow gay and lesbian officials, and simply allow the student government to assign funds however they want, which will inevitably include discrimination against the CLS anyway (and I speak from experience in this regard).
Nevertheless, the importance in the case is not that the CLS get funding, or that the CLS’ rule be permitted to stand (the group could continue to meet with its rule intact without funding from the school). Rather, the important issue is that government not be permitted overt discrimination against the faithful for their commitment to their religions (whatever religion that may be), even when their religions deem homosexual activity to be sinful.
Potentially, the Supreme Court could delve into whether the doctrine against homosexual sex is a “core religious viewpoint”, as stated in its “Question Presented,” because there are Christians who believe homosexual activity is morally acceptable. Of course, that would certainly get the attention of the more conservative Christians across the country; they will not take kindly to a governmental entity telling them what their “core religious viewpoints” are. I doubt that the Supreme Court would risk such a backlash, which could ultimately undermine its power.
More likely, the Court’s decision will set guidelines for a state school’s recognition of, or discrimination against, student-led religious organizations on the college/post-graduate level. The ironic thing here is that even though the public school seeks to prohibit an organization from “discriminating” against homosexuals and others, it “discriminates” against those who believe homosexuality is wrong. So the public school erred on the side of freedom of sexual activity over freedom of religion and conscience. Such is the result of the sexual revolution. And that is a scary progression, from dedication to conscience to dedication to sex.
We can only hope the Supreme Court doesn’t make it worse.