UC Hastings’ Christian Legal Society asks Supreme Court to strike down unconstitutional anti-discrimination policy
A Supreme Court decision slated for June may be the last chance for the Christian Legal Society chapter at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco to run their organization in adherence to their core spiritual beliefs and still retain their school benefits.
At issue is the university’s non-discriminatory policy which bars student groups from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex, or sexual orientation. The CLS believes that the non-discriminatory law is inherently discriminatory against student faith groups.
The issue arose in 2004 when the CLS asked members to pledge to core religious beliefs, including that they will not engage in a “sexually immoral lifestyle,” or “all acts of sexual conduct outside God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman.” Failure to live by this standard would disqualify an individual from becoming a voting CLS member.
School officials viewed the pledge as discrimination. They said the group’s faith-based by-laws reflected intent to discriminate against gay and lesbian students and others. Under the school policy, student groups must agree to accept any student as a voting member.
The society was ordered to abide by school policy, or they would lose school recognition including school benefits such as funding, use of school facilities, and use of school communication systems to publicize meetings.
When the CLS balked, the school withheld their benefits. The CLS sued, claiming the First Amendment rights of free speech, free association and free exercise of religion. They said the school policy is unconstitutional.
The CLS said gay and lesbian students and others of different beliefs could attend CLS meetings and events, but if they do not sign a pledge acknowledging that they share the precise Christian beliefs of the group they would be excluded from voting, holding leadership positions, and leading Bible study discussions.
CLS’ lawyer Michael McConnell wrote in their defense brief, “To forbid groups to form on the basis of shared beliefs is to forbid freedom of association at its most fundamental level.”
McConnell added, “The policy targets solely those groups whose beliefs are based on ‘religion’ or that disapprove of a particular kind of sexual behavior.” He said
the non-discrimination policy is “explicitly viewpoint discriminatory” and only applies to religious beliefs–not political, social, or cultural ideals or beliefs.
So far the Hastings policy has been upheld by a federal judge. The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s ruling. The Supreme Court decision in June will be the CLS last chance to run their organization according to their core beliefs and still keep their status and benefits.
Some 60 student organizations are currently registered at Hastings, all of which can receive school benefits. If the Supreme Court supports the school’s policy, the CLS will be the only student group that was ever denied those benefits.