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Supreme Court to Consider Whether Christian Law School Group Should be Forced to Admit Gays

In a case that will pit protections against beliefs, the Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments from lawyers representing University of California's Hastings College of the Law and lawyers from the school's Christian Legal Society, which says allowing gays and lesbians to join goes against its core values.

Hastings The Washington Post reports:

"The college, which requires officially recognized student groups to admit any Hastings student who wants to join, may be well-meaning, says the student outpost of the Christian Legal Society. But the group contends that requiring it to allow gay students and nonbelievers into its leadership would be a renunciation of its core beliefs, and that the policy violates the Constitution's guarantee of free speech, association with like-minded individuals and exercise of religion. 'Hastings' policy is a threat to every group that seeks to form and define its own voice,' the group told the court in a brief. The case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, will be argued in the Supreme Court Monday morning. Hastings counters that the CLS, a national organization that seeks to 'proclaim, love and serve Jesus Christ through the study and practice of law,' is demanding special treatment. It wants the college's official stamp of approval and the access to benefits and student activity fees that come with it, but it will not commit to following the nondiscrimination policy that every other student group follows."

Some background in the case: "A Christian group was part of the landscape for years. But when it decided to affiliate with the national CLS, it was told the group's ban of gays and nonbelievers in leadership positions violated the college's policy and its insistence that all Hastings students be allowed to join any club. The CLS sued. A federal judge sided with the school, saying its blanket policy did not single out the religious group because of its views. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed."

(image flickr user frankfarm)

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  1. "Should a LGBT student group have the right to ban open homophobes from their organization?"

    If it's an official LGBT student group, probably not. But why would an open homophobe want to join an LGBT group other than for purely antagonistic reasons? (If that were the case, the group might have grounds to expel a member for harassment, but that's a separate issue.)

    Your question implies that there is a rational analogy between a gay student wanting to join a Christian group and a homophobe wanting to join a gay group. There isn't, really. A gay student could also be a Christian and want to join a Christian group despite disagreement on some issues. A homophobe has nothing in common with a gay group. (Unless he's a self-loathing closet case, in which case joining the group might do him good!) There's no equivalency in those scenarios.

    A more appropriate question would be whether an LGBT group could ban a Christian gay person who, for religious reasons, disagreed with the group's support of marriage equality? The answer is no. The Christian could join--if the school prohibits discrimination based on religion--but with the knowledge that his stand on the issue is opposed by the group. If the group wanted to squelch all dissent and ban religious people entirely, they'd lose their official status.

    Having heard this discussed on NPR this morning the group's freedom of association argument seems extremely weak. (What would stop a group from banning blacks, Christians, or people with short legs?) If the court comes down on the group's side, they'll be showing their activist judge colors (again).

    Posted by: Ernie | Apr 19, 2010 10:33:30 AM


  2. Okay, folks, the issues here are constitutional law 101 stuff. This is a state school, so they are bound by both state and federal constitutional requirements and rulings. These groups are not places of public accommodation and therefore do not fall under state or federal anti-discrimination laws. The school is arguing indirectly that these groups are part of the school's educational mandate and therefore must adhere to the school's policies whereas the CLS argues that they are a private group independent of the school's discretionary authority. The legal minutia would involve discretionary authority of the school to create, fund, run and/or disband these groups. The school is arguing that mere funding is sufficient to show discretionary authority. The CLS is saying no, as the school lacks any day-to-day control over the group--compared to say, dormitories. Thus, the ruling could end up being very technical, rather than broad, as with cases involving public monuments. There is no clear precedent from public monument and holiday display cases to make any outcome obvious, however, the school has probably already shot itself in its foot if it allowed discrimination by other groups of the sort it would disallow for the CLS, thus making the technical ruling that the school should adapt an absolutely fair policy, and the court has made similar rulings recently. There is a lot of settled law in this area, already, so don't succumb to wishful thinking about how you would like the court to rule. The courts are not that ad-hoc.

    Posted by: anon | Apr 19, 2010 1:01:12 PM


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