[On February 4th], The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a legal brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a coalition of minority religious groups—including Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and African American and Hispanic Christians—defending the right of the Christian Legal Society to meet as a recognized student group at the University of California Hastings College of Law.
Hastings, a state-run law school located in San Francisco, banned the Christian Legal Society (CLS) from the list of recognized student groups on campus. According to Hastings, CLS violates the school’s policy against discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation because CLS requires its leaders and voting members to be practicing Christians who abstain from sex outside of marriage.
“It is absurd to say that a Christian group is ‘discriminating’ when it chooses members and leaders who are Christians,” said Eric Rassbach, National Litigation Director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “If Christian groups have to have atheist chaplains, and Jewish groups have to have Muslim rabbis, there can be no distinctive religious groups—everyone becomes a cookie-cutter ‘Inter-Faith Society.’”
Christian Legal Society meetings and events are open to all students—regardless of sexual orientation or religious affiliation. Only its leaders and voting members, who speak on its behalf, vote on its policies, and lead its Bible studies, are required to adhere to the group’s statement of faith and abide by the code of conduct.
In the words of Leo Martinez, the acting Chancellor and Dean of the University of California, and the defendant in the case, Hastings’ policy is not limited to religious groups: “a Republican has the right to become a member of the Democratic Club, and the pro-life group may not refuse membership to students with pro-choice views.”
“The question in this case is whether the government can force student groups to abandon their core values. Can the school force a Jewish group to have Gentile leaders? Or a pro-life group to have pro-choice leaders? The Constitution protects freedom of association, including the right of student groups to choose their own members and leaders. That is the real meaning of diversity,” added Rassbach.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Hastings. In what promises to be one of the biggest religious liberty cases in decades, CLS v. Martinez, the Supreme Court will likely hear oral argument in the spring.