Supreme Court Rules in Hastings Discrimination Case

The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 yesterday that Hastings College of Law in San Francisco legally withdrew recognition from a campus group, the Christian Legal Society (CLS), which excluded gay members from voting or holding office. The case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (see PDF), originated in 2004, after the CLS lost recognition after revising their rules to bar anyone engaging in “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” including homosexuality or sex outside of marriage, according to the New York Times. The group filed suit to reinstate recognition from the school so that it could gain access to financing and benefits, which include access to meeting spaces. In its suit, the group alleged violation of their first amendment free speech and association rights. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and joined by justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Anthony Kennedy ruled that “Hastings’ open-access condition” on group recognition was “reasonable and viewpoint neutral.” Part of the opinion read, “CLS’s analytical error lies in focusing on the benefits it must forgo while ignoring the interests of those it seeks to fence out: Exclusion, after all, has two sides. Hastings, caught in the crossfire between a group’s desire to exclude and students’ demand for equal access, may reasonably draw a line in the sand permitting all organizations to express what they wish but no groupto discriminate in membership.” Kim Colby, senior counsel at the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom, responded to the ruling and told the Associated Press, “All college students, including religious students, should have the right to form groups around shared beliefs without being banished from campus.” The dissenting Justices believe that Hastings’ anti-discrimination policy unfairly disadvantages religious groups. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the dissent, “I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today’s decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country.” However, the majority found that Hastings did not quell the freedom of the organization because the group was still allowed to function and the school does have the right to remove recognition from groups that are not within their policies. In a concurring opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “other groups may exclude or mistreat Jews, blacks and women – or those who do not share their contempt for Jews, blacks and women. A free society must tolerate such groups. It need not subsidize them, give them its official imprimatur, or grant them equal access to law school facilities.”


Christian Legal Society V. Martinez; Feminist Newswire 4/21/10; New York Times 6/28/10; Associated Press 6/28/10, San Francisco Chronicle 6/29/10

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