(CCU Faculty) The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (UC Hastings). This case concerns the claim by the Christian Legal Society, a national group of Christian lawyers and law students, that they have been denied their First Amendment guarantees of freedom of association and free exercise of religious faith.
The Christian Legal Society had an organized chapter on the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law campus in San Francisco. In 2004, the group was told by school administrators that they would no longer be recognized as an official campus group, thereby losing their eligibility for school funding and other benefits, including the ability to reserve campus space to hold meetings. The reason for this decision: the Christian Legal Society required that voting members and club officers sign a statement of faith and agree to a personal conduct code. This code includes the statement that “Christians should not engage in sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.”
The law school argued that all campus groups must not discriminate against people because of their religious faith or sexual orientation. Groups that exclude individuals from membership are denied official recognition and school funding.
In Federal District Court, as well as in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Christian Legal Society was unsuccessful in their claim that the school’s decision violated their First Amendment rights. Attorneys for the Christian Legal Society argued that the First Amendment guarantees a right of “expressive association.” As such, a group must be able to adhere to their core religious views and make governing decisions based upon them. The denial of this by the lower courts allows for the school’s ban on discrimination to trump a religious group’s right to exercise their faith freely.
We must hope that the US Supreme Court will overturn these lower court decisions and recognize the significant right of religious groups to maintain the central tenets and teachings of their faith.