Religious liberty group asks Supreme Court to reverse ruling that excludes religious groups from college campuses


WASHINGTON, D.C. — A religious liberty group petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court December 14 to reverse the ruling by the 9th Circuit Court against Christian student organizations at San Diego State University.

The lawsuit involves a SDSU policy that Christian clubs cannot limit membership based on religious beliefs if they wish to receive funding and other on-campus benefits.

"The university should be a marketplace of ideas, not a place where political correctness is placed ahead of the constitutionally protected rights of all students, including students of faith," said David Cortman, Senior Counsel for Alliance Defense Fund.

"The university is not telling the Democratic club it must be led by a Republican or the vegetarian club that it must be led by a meat-eater, but it is telling Christian groups that they must allow themselves to be led by atheists," continued Cortman. "The First Amendment protects the right of all student groups to employ belief-based criteria in selecting their members and leaders."

The Christian clubs sued the university in 2005, saying a campus policy that prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation infringed on their freedom of speech, religion and assembly. In 2009, a lower court tossed their case, prompting the federal appeal.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled that SDSU's antidiscrimination policy is constitutional since the "plaintiffs have put forth no evidence that San Diego State implemented its nondiscrimination policy for the purpose of suppressing plaintiffs' viewpoint or indeed of restricting any sort of expression at all," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote in the opinion.

While the appeals court sided with the university's nondiscrimination policy, it did order the case back to a lower court for determination if the university was applying the policy universally.

As a result of the ruling, Alpha Delta Chi, a Christian sorority, and Alpha Gamma Omega, a Christian fraternity, must accept all students—including atheists, adherents of other faiths, as well as gay, lesbian and transgender students—if they wish to have access to the same privileges extended to secular clubs, such as publicity and meeting rooms.

"The 9th Circuit's ruling against these Christian student groups poses a serious threat to religious liberty well beyond the university campus," Cortman explained. "It also allows religious groups to be punished for 'discrimination' simply because they maintain a consistent identity and message by selecting members and leaders who share their religious beliefs—a practice that is common among all religious groups and a natural part of the free exercise of religion."

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