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Supreme Court Divided Over Christian Legal Society Bias Case

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By Sandhya Bathija

This morning, when I headed over to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, I didn’t see Newt Gingrich in attendance.

I was hoping the former House speaker would be there — not because I’m a fan, but because I thought he could have learned something. Gingrich got the facts of the case all wrong when he popped off about it in Friday’s Washington Post.

His op-ed wasn’t surprising. Gingrich will do anything these days to curry favor with religious conservatives, and the Religious Right is all worked up over this case.

Evangelical groups and their allies have filed more than a dozen friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the Christian Legal Society (CLS). They generally employ the same strategy in their arguments as Gingrich did in his essay: twist the facts as much as possible to paint this case as an attack on Christianity and religious liberty.

In 2004, Hastings College of the Law – a division of the University of California — denied official recognition and funding to the CLS affiliate on campus because it violated the school’s non-discrimination policy. All student groups are required to remain open to all students in order to receive official recognition and funding.

The CLS requires its members to sign an evangelical statement of faith and bars students who engage in “unrepentant homosexual conduct,” thus discriminating against non-Christians and gays.  Hastings, therefore, denied the group official status.

Attorneys for the CLS have distorted these facts and claim that the group is being forced to admit people who disagree with their views. It isn’t.

What’s really happening is this: the CLS was given a choice to either forgo funding and official recognition and retain the right to discriminate or abide by the policy and receive the benefits. The society isn’t being forced into anything different than any other group on campus.

CLS and its supporters also bring up a slew of other arguments. They claim that the university singled out CLS and did not apply the non-discrimination policy fairly across the board. They also claim that this is deliberately marginalizing and excluding people of faith and eventually CLS will cease to exist.

These arguments don’t pan out. CLS has provided no evidence that they were singled out. In addition, the club has continued to meet on campus without official status, actually doubling in size the year after it was denied official recognition.

The Supreme Court was clearly divided about the case today. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor seemed sympathetic to the Hastings policy, while Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito tilted toward the CLS. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer suggested that the facts remain unclear, which could mean the case gets sent back to the lower courts for more findings of fact.

A decision is expected by the end of June. Stay tuned.


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