Christian Legal Society Challenges Nondiscrimination Policy at UC-Hastings
Once again, San Francisco finds itself at the epicenter of the crusade for gay rights. A campus-based affiliate of the Christian Legal Society is suing the University of California Hastings College of the Law (UC-Hastings). UC-Hastings denied the group official recognition and financial assistance on the grounds that the society excludes gays and lesbians from board and voting membership, a violation of the law school’s policy of inclusion. The issue at stake is whether a public university can refuse to recognize a religious student group because the group requires its leaders to share the group’s religious beliefs.
This spring, the United States Supreme Court will review the UC-Hastings discrimination case. Federal courts have already rejected the group’s argument that their freedoms of speech, religion, and association were being violated. By accepting to hear the case during the next judicial session, the justices have agreed to navigate complicated terrain regarding how neutral rules may affect religious groups.
UC-Hastings, which had urged the justices to let the lower courts’ decisions stand, holds that all campus organizations must be inclusive to receive recognition and funding, regardless of whether a group is organized according to religious beliefs. If a group does not abide by the school’s nondiscrimination policy, it forfeits funding, but may then exclude whomever it chooses.
The issue at stake is whether a public university can refuse to recognize a religious student group because the group requires its leaders to share the group’s religious beliefs.
The UC-Hastings Web site lists several student groups from a ballroom dance club to the Black Law Students Association, but the Christian Legal Society is not among the groups listed.
Founded in 1961, the Christian Legal Society is a nationwide association of law students and lawyers that does not look favorably on homosexuality and “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” The group has sued other schools and universities. In July 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit required Southern Illinois University to recognize the chapter while the case was pending. The court ruled that the Christian Legal Society chapter was likely to succeed on its claims that Southern Illinois University violated the chapter’s rights to freedom of association and freedom of speech and that the Christian Legal Society’s policy prohibiting members from engaging in sexual conduct outside of marriage is not “sexual orientation” discrimination. DB
From the March/April 2010 issue of Diversity & The Bar®