Supreme Court: California Law School Can Deny Recognition to Christian Group Over Anti-Gay Policies

The Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 in a case pitting protections against beliefs, ruling that the University of California's Hasting Law School can deny recognition of the School's Christian Legal Society because it refuses to admit gays, something the CLS argued goes against its core beliefs. 

Hastings I posted about this case back in April.

The AP reports:

"The court on Monday 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 said no recognized campus groups may exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.

The court 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 decision."

As Michelangelo Signorile notes in a tweet, the split decision, with Kennedy the swing vote, is a positive sign if looking ahead to a possible hearing of the Prop 8 challenge before SCOTUS:



  1. says

    Much as I would wish he is right, I’d venture to say that Signorile is wrong on this. Kennedy is wildly unpredictable and can justify anything on either side. It should be noted that in his decision for us in Laurence v. Texas that he stated that the decision should unequivocally not signify any justification being made for marriage equality.

  2. anon says

    SCOTUS ruled that the school has discretionary authority over student groups that receive support as long as its policies are fair, as in the following description (I quote):

    The court’s majority reasoned that Hastings was simply applying a standard, non-discriminatory requirement that all student organizations accept all would-be members. In doing so, the court rejected the Christian Legal Society’s claim that the policy infringed on religious and freedom-of-association rights.

    Read more:

    This means that Jewish groups can have Muslim/Christian officers and/or gay groups can have Baptist officers, etc. This is what you’d call a triumph of majority rule, as now minority groups can be filled to majority by others. However, the ruling it seems, remains technical and will have little bearing outside state university systems.

  3. Layla Miller says

    The letter of the law versus the spirit of the law is an idiomatic antithesis. When one obeys the letter of the law but not the spirit, one is obeying the literal interpretation of the words (the “letter”) of the law, but not the intent of those who wrote the law. Conversely, when one obeys the spirit of the law but not the letter, one is doing what the authors of the law intended, though not adhering to the literal wording.

    “Law” originally referred to legislative statute, but in the idiom may refer to any kind of rule. Intentionally following the letter of the law but not the spirit may be accomplished through exploiting technicalities, loopholes, and ambiguous language. Following the letter of the law but not the spirit is also a tactic used by oppressive governments and even religious institutions.

  4. anon says

    The ruling basically states that it’s Hastings money, so they get to decide what to do with it. I.e., the complaint was too broad and should have come under administrative law (application of policy arbitrarily).

  5. DireFates says

    Does anyone know if the ruling would apply to school groups that exclude on the basis of race or sex orientation, IF that group is meant to be a support group for specific races or sex. orientations?

    That is, could Hastings deny recognition to gay groups that want to limit membership to gays only or black groups that want to limit membership to blacks only?

  6. John says

    “could Hastings deny recognition to gay groups that want to limit membership to gays only or black groups that want to limit membership to blacks only?”

    Yes, it can.

    Although whenever the right-wing raises this hypothetical question, I treat it along the same lines as “what if pink unicorns wanted to breed with Mustangs.”

    Institutional discrimination in this country has been largely – almost exclusively – one sided. I can think of no precedent where a university campus’ Queer Alliance has denied membership to anyone because they are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or whatever. Similarly, you would have to dig very hard indeed to find a case where a college chapter of the ACLU, SLPC, or NAACP denied anyone membership based on race.

    Since conservatives themselves are responsible for the vast majority of these incidents, perhaps more than 95% of them, I find the notion that these people are fighting for my “right to free association” with bigots, nutjobs, and racists rather odd indeed. Since these are crimes I have no intention of committing, is that not the definition of false equivalency?

  7. Kevin says

    To me it’s a no-brainer: If the Law Group is allowed to discriminate then the university is also allowed to discriminate. Why should the Law Group be allowed to dictate to the University who can and who cannot be affiliated any more than the reverse situation? So if the Law Group loses, then that means it is not allowed to discriminate. If the Law Group wins, then the University is also allowed to discriminate, and thus is allowed to kick out the Law Group.

  8. anon says

    While it’s not likely that bizarre scenarios will occur as a result of Hastings, the ruling could result in the erosion of distinct groups. A bunch of evangelical Christians is now free to join and disrupt a gay-positive group by the will of its majority alone, as the group cannot stop them from joining. Just as an Internet forum can be hijacked by trolls, so can a college group.

  9. Kelly says

    Alito called this decision an “aberration”. He’s a total homophobe, and clueless about the direction this country is going. How the hell did he ever get confirmed?

  10. says

    I tend to agree that this isn’t really the case that will forecast any Prop 8 decisions from the Supreme Court (particularly as we don’t really know for sure where Kagan, if confirmed, will line up, although her view on DADT would seem to be it would be for equality).

    What I’m most concerned about is where Justice Kennedy ended up in the Second Amendment case, McDonald v. City of Chicago. There he ended up in the majority with Alito, in an opinion that stressed that for substantive due process rights to be recognized, they must be deeply rooted in American history and tradition.

    That makes me a little uneasy, but Justice Kennedy found a substantive due process right to sodomy in Lawrence v Texas, so I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.

    I blogged about this potential issue here:

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