The Supreme Court and the Battle of Hastings
By Deal W. Hudson
On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a case being called “The Battle of Hastings,” involving the right of a college or university to deny recognition to a student group that bans gays and lesbians. Christian Legal Society v. Martinez stems from 2004 when the University of California Hastings’ chapter of the Virginia-based Christian Legal Society changed its policy to exclude anyone who engaged in “unrepentant homosexual conduct.”
Applying its non-discrimination policy, the university decided not to recognize the group — called the Hastings Christian Fellowship — meaning the organization could not receive university funding, meet in university rooms, post on designated bulletin boards, or participate in the Student Organizations Fair.
The Christian Legal Society brought suit against UC Hastings represented by the Alliance Defense Fund. The Hastings’ case arrived in the Supreme Court after the 2006 decision by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruling in Hastings’ favor, saying its policy regulated conduct, not speech. White argued the policy did not regulate what the group could say about homosexuality, but it did bar them from discrimination.A 3-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge White’s ruling In March 2009.
To argue on behalf of the Christian Legal Society, CLS and the Alliance Defense Fund have recruited Michael W. McConnell, a former federal appellate court judge, who currently runs the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. McConnell is arguing the case pro bono.
The justices will consider whether a law school at a public university with a non-discrimination policy can refuse funding to a religious student group because the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court received 22 friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the Christian Legal Society. And among the almost 100 parties filing briefs in support of CLS and ADF there are 14 state attorneys general, including those from Michigan, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Alabama, Nebraska, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Louisiana, West Virginia, and South Dakota.
“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 ADF Senior Legal Counsel Gregory S. Baylor. “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.”
For Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defense Fund, the Hastings’ decision will have historic ramifications for religious freedom in our nation. As Sears wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner:
“As Christian beliefs stand in ever starker contrast to the campus culture, it has become academic de rigueur to punish the free association of Christian students and the free expression of their ideas on campus.”
The decision of the justices regarding Hastings, according to Sears, will determine whether “the Constitution protects the rights of private student groups to select their message and their officers.” The outcome of Hastings will also send a message to universities and colleges. Should they be training their students “to believe that it’s appropriate for government officials to coerce and ostracize private organizations in order to conform to the prevailing orthodoxy that rules most college campuses today.”