Religion in Society

Anti-Gay Christian Group Denied Access at Public Calif. College

| by Rutherford Institute

WASHINGTON -- The Rutherford Institute has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez in defense of the right of a Christian university student group to be able to freely associate with fellow believers who subscribe to their religious beliefs about sexual conduct outside of marriage.

A copy of the Institute's brief is available here.

The brief, which was filed on behalf of Christian Legal Society (CLS), a student law group at the University of California, Hastings College of Law, asks the Court to reverse a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that affirms the school's decision to deny CLS access to campus as a result of membership policies that exclude homosexuals and non-Christians. At stake is whether or not, in an effort to advance universal tolerance, a religious group can be forced to abandon tenets central to its faith in order to be granted the same access and privileges afforded to other campus organizations. As the Institute argues in its brief, "With this sort of compelled choice and censorship, and interference with the governance of a religious organization, all groups and members of the ... academic community are at risk [and] their rights, chilled and diminished."

"The centuries-old tradition in public universities of 'freedom for the thought that we hate' has produced extraordinary creativity, vital debate, and countless contributions to American and world civilization," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "It is our hope that the Supreme Court will remain true to our nation's rich heritage of academic freedom and ensure that the academic setting remains a free and protected marketplace of ideas."

In 2004, a Christian student group at the University of California, Hastings College of Law joined the National Christian Legal Society (CLS), which requires its member organizations to adopt a specified set of bylaws, which include provisions prohibiting individuals from being officers or full members of the organization who are not of the Christian faith or who conduct themselves in a manner not in accord with Christian tenets. Specifically, although all students are free to participate in CLS activities, students must affirm orthodox Christian beliefs and disavow "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle" in order to become voting members or assume leadership positions.

However, when CLS submitted its new bylaws along with its student organization's registration forms to the Hastings College of Law, its registration application was denied because the bylaws were deemed to be in conflict with a school non-discrimination policy. After CLS refused to recant its core beliefs, school officials banned the group from having access to simple school resources and forums, which are available to other student organizations, including the school's e-mail system to communicate with the student body and various school publications to place advertisements for club events and to recruit new members. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against CLS in March 2009. In December 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, which pits anti-discrimination policies against religious freedom.