By J. Willgruber
CLS v. Martinez
561 U.S. 130 S.Ct. 2971, 177 L.Ed.2d 838 (2010)
Decided: June 28, 2010
In a landmark Supreme Court decision in which the University of California’s Hastings Law School ruled [5–4] in favor of the public law school’s decision not to grant recognition to a Christian student organization. The Christian Legal Society (CLS), a religious student organization at Hastings, filed suit for injunctive and declaratory relief against the university in a California federal district court for violating its First Amendment rights (free speech and free exercise of religion).
Hastings College of Law is a public law school in California that has a policy prohibiting discrimination on the premises of “race, color, religion, national origin, disabilities, ancestry, age, sex or sexual orientation. Leo Martinez is the Dean and Acting Chancellor, Hastings College of the Law.
CLS applied to become a “recognized student organization” but was denied by Hastings. CLS was denied because their “Statement of Faith,” a requirement that every member of the student organization must follow states that “Christians should not engage in sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman,” conflicted with Hastings nondiscrimination policy. Clearly, CLS’s Statement of Faith excludes gays and lesbians; hence the student organization does not accept anyone who engages in “sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.”
CLS allows students to become voting members and to assume leadership positions only if 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.
CLS sued Hastings, asking for no different treatment than is given to any registered student group, thus violating its 1st Amendment rights. The district court granted Hastings summary judgment and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether Hasting’s refusal to grant CLS access to student organization benefits amounted to viewpoint discrimination, which is impermissible under the First Amendment. (CATO Institute, CLS v. Martinez, Feb. 3,2010 Legal Briefs)
In 1993, CLS student chapters started frequently being denied access to meeting space and campus communications because it requires its voting members and leaders to share its Statement of Faith.
The two sides disputed the legal principles involved but also what had happened at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, the defendant in the case. The school merely applied a neutral “all comers” policy to every group that sought official recognition. Recognized groups were entitled to modest financial assistance, use of the school’s communications channels and meeting space as well as the use of the school’s name and logo, as long as all students were allowed to participate in their activities.
Involving a conflict between religious freedom and anti-discrimination principles, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is in the majority. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, said for public institutions of higher education, that it was “constitutionally permissible” to require recognized student groups to accept all students who wished to participate in them. (NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/us/29court.html)
CLS allows students to become voting members and to assume leadership positions only if 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 ACLU illustrates the long history of discrimination on university campuses arguing that Hastings has a compelling interest to ensure any recognized and university funded student program is open to all students enrolled at the school. (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, June 28, 2010, American Civil Liberties Union)
Justice Alito admitted the decision made was a “serious setback for freedom of expression in this country.” The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in favor of Hastings set the precedent for challenging freedom of expression under the First Amendment specifically within the context of student organizations’ rights at universities.
Future cases may or may not see as close of decisions as the search for the middle ground continues to be a daunting task in our country and obviously in our world.
By: Joshua Willgruber
2. NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/us/29court.html
3. http://www.aclu.org/print/lgbt-rights-religion-belief/christian-legal-society-v- martinez