Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

SCOTUS Ruling Against Christian Group is LGBT Victory

Posted by Roobs on June 30, 2010

A case that was probably more interesting to local San Franciscan’s, LGBT and Bay Area legal observers was settled on Monday, June 28.  The case: Christian Legal Society V. Martinez, was ruled in favor of Martinez (aka UC Hastings School of Law) saying that a law school has the legal right to refuse official recognition of a club or group that won’t let gays join.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The court turned away an appeal from the Christian Legal Society, which sued to get funding and recognition from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. The CLS requires that voting members sign a statement of faith and regards “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” as being inconsistent with that faith.

But Hastings, which is in San Francisco, said no recognized campus groups may exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.

The court on a 5-4 judgment upheld the lower court rulings saying the Christian group’s First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise were not violated by the college’s nondiscrimination policy.

Some observers think that this case wasn’t really an LGBT victory, per se.  They believe it was more a “case with LGBT implications” vs. specifically an “LGBT case”.  That, i can agree with because the implications of the ruling have a greater reach than specifically on the LGBT community.  But im compelled to defend the importance that even this legal victory represents for the LGBT community.

Basically what we have here is that the Christian Legal Society required its members to sign some kind of statement where they would have to adhere to the view that homosexuality is a sin.  Because UC Hastings has a non-discrimination policy, the school refused to grant CLS official recognition within the school, preventing them from receiving special privileges and funding.  CLS then sued UC Hastings claiming that the school was violating their right of free speech and freedom of religion.  SCOTUS ruled against CLS stating that UC Hastings is within its right to withhold recognition.

Here is part of the ruling: (Download Complete Ruling Here)

Compliance with Hastings’ all-comers policy…is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the student-organization forum. In requiring CLS—in common with all other student organizations—to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations. CLS, it bears emphasis, seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy. The First Amendment shields CLS against state prohibition of the organization’s expressive activity, however exclusionary that activity may be. But CLS enjoys no constitutional right to state subvention of its selectivity.

Even in a strict narrow interpretation, SCOTUS has ruled that a school’s non-discrimination policy, such as Hastings, constitutes a “limited public forum” due to the fact that the policy is akin to requiring every group seeking official recognition by the school to allow “all-comers” – to have open access.  This makes sense and one that CLS’s legal team agreed to in a stipulation early on.  So groups that single out individuals for any reason for exclusion in the group do not have to be granted official recognition by the school.

CLS attempted to argue that the school policy was not actually an “all comers” policy but actually was attempting to single out religious groups.  This, of course, ignoring the fact CLS agreed to the “all comers” definition in a stipulation, but argument wise, it’s just not that good.  The argument by CLS and in the dissenting opinion assumed that all discrimination occurs without religious-belief or intent (Prop 8, anyone?).  So any non-discrimination policy would actually be viewed as a anti-religious belief policy.

That kind of interpretation of the law is much broader than i think people give credit for.  It would have challenged practically every single non-discrimination policy in existence because any religious group that wanted to bar anyone – gays, blacks, Asians, elderly, women, etc. – could challenge their policies by claiming a violation of their freedom of religion.

But this is an LGBT victory because it was brought up because CLS refused to let gay students join.  There are many LGBT law students at UC Hastings that, had the court ruled in favor of CLS, would be paying part of their tuition to help fund an organization that actively discriminated against them.  The court did not say that CLS has to let gays join, it said that if it doesn’t, it can’t expect to be exempted from the school’s non-discrimination policy and receive recognition.  The fact that SCOTUS ruled against CLS is very promising and a worthwhile victory for LGBT law students and groups in LGBT in general.

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