Court Rules against Group That Bans Gays

Article excerpt


The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a public university can refuse to officially recognize a Christian student group that bars membership to those who violate its beliefs.

In a 5-4 decision split along ideological lines, the high court agreed with a decision by the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco to refuse to grant a campus chapter of the Christian Legal Society because it expressly barred gays and non-Christians.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, John Paul Stevens and Anthony M. Kennedy, the court's frequent swing vote, agreed with the school. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas sided with the Christian group.

The school said the group's membership requirements violated the university's anti-discrimination policies, which require groups on campus to allow members regardless of sexual orientation or religion. The group claimed that the school's policies violated its First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

A federal district court and federal appeals court previously sided with the school against the Christian students.

Writing for the majority, Justice Ginsburg said the First Amendment shielded the Christian Legal Society from discrimination at the hands of the state-run university, but it did not give the Christian group the right to exclude people while receiving the benefits of the university's resources.

Exclusion, after all, has two sides, she wrote. 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 group to discriminate in membership.

The conservative justices said their liberal counterparts had distorted the facts of the case and argued that the school targeted the Christian group because it disagreed with the group's beliefs.

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, Justice Alito wrote in a dissenting opinion. "Even those who find [the Christian Legal Society's] views objectionable should be concerned about the way the group has been treated - by Hastings, the court of appeals and now this court. …