U.S. Supreme Court will consider First Amendment rights of Christian club


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court—which will review a religious discrimination case brought by a Christian legal society from San Francisco college of law—has received nearly two dozen legal briefs supporting the student club.

The briefs were filed in January and February in advance of oral arguments, which are set for April 19.

The Christian Legal Society filed suit after officials at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in 2004 denied the society's request for recognition as an official on-campus club. Campus recognition is crucial to receive broader access to university facilities, marketing and funding. The college denied the group's request saying that although anyone is invited to participate in the society, its bylaws require that those seeking voting membership or leadership roles must adhere to its core religious beliefs and reject "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle." That requirement, administrators ruled, violates the campus' nondiscrimination policy, which covers homosexuality.

In filing suit against Hastings College, attorneys with the national Christian Legal Society cited First Amendment violations of the students' rights to free association and expression of religion. The suit also alleges viewpoint discrimination by the college.

"All noncommercial expressive associations, regardless of their beliefs, have a constitutionally protected right to control the content of their speech by excluding those who do not share their essential purposes and beliefs from voting and leadership roles," read the legal society's brief on behalf of its clients.  "For Hastings College of the Law to force the Christian Legal Society chapter to admit non-adherents into its leadership and voting ranks—on pain of exclusion from an otherwise open speech forum—violates Petitioner's rights of speech, expressive association, and free exercise of religion."

The petitioner's brief was filed Jan. 28.

"Just as all student groups have the right to associate with people who share common beliefs and interests, Christian student groups have the right to be Christian student groups," said Gregory S. Baylor, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. "Requiring leaders of a Christian club to live by a Christian code of conduct is no different than an environmentalist club requiring its leaders not to be lumberjacks."

Diverse support
According to ADF, which is also representing the students, nearly 100 parties were represent by briefs filed in support of the position of their case, including 14 state attorneys general and a large number of diverse groups holding to a wide range of beliefs and practices.

"Christian student groups shouldn't be forced to deny their faith in order to be treated the same as other student groups," said Senior Counsel Kim Colby with the CLS Center for Law & Religious Freedom. "This support—from organizations that fall across the spectrum in their religious, political, and ideological viewpoints—amply testifies to the importance of this case for all. True tolerance and real diversity require that each group be able to ensure that its leaders agree with its core mission."

Those groups include the Association of Christian Schools International, Evangelical Scholars, Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty, American Center for Law and Justice, American Islamic Congress, State Attorneys General, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Christian Medical and Dental Associations, The Cato Institute, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Advocates International, Students for Life America, Boy Scouts of America, The Rutherford Institute, Liberty Counsel, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Agudath Israel of America, Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, Justice and Freedom Fund and the Pacific Justice Institute.

The club appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled against the student club a year ago.

"It would be absurd to demand that an atheist student club allow people of faith to become officers, or that the Democratic student club allow itself to be overrun with Republicans," said Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, which filed one of the briefs. "Such rules would quickly destroy the identity of these and countless other groups, leading to intellectual dullness, not diversity. In the same way, we think it is self-evident that the Christian Legal Society should have the ability to choose Christian leaders for itself."

For more information on the case, visit www.clsnet.org.

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