A divided Supreme Court today ruled, 5-4, that a public law school can deny recognition to a student group that excludes gays and lesbians. The Court said the school could enforce a policy requiring official student organizations to accept all students who want to join.
The case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, arose in 2004 when a chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), a nationwide, non-denominational organization of Christian lawyers, judges and law students, asked to register as an official student group at the University of California's Hastings College of Law. Groups that are officially recognized by the school enjoy certain privileges, including access to school facilities and the opportunity to apply for school funding. But CLS membership requirements effectively bar non-Christians and non-celibate gays and lesbians from becoming voting members or assuming leadership positions, which conflicts with the law school's stated policy of requiring registered student groups to accept any students as members. After Hastings refused to exempt CLS from the policy – known as the “all-comers” policy – the group sued the law school, claiming the policy violated the group's First Amendment rights to free speech, freedom of association and freedom of religious expression. Two lower federal courts sided with Hastings, and CLS appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case on April 19, 2010.
The case was widely viewed as a contest between the right of free association and non-discrimination policies. In its ruling, however, the court did not resolve any broad questions raised by this conflict. Instead, the majority handed down a narrowly tailored decision that upheld the specific policy of Hastings Law School – the “all-comers” policy – as long as it is applied in an evenhanded manner.
Read the full report, High Court Rules Against Campus Christian Group on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's Web site.