Six years ago, the UC Hastings College of Law, a state-funded institution, ended its official recognition of the religious group Christian Legal Society when the group announced that members had to sign a statement of faith that condemned “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” and banned homosexuals from being members. To the question “What Would Jesus Do?” the group came to a modern day solution: sue Hastings.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is generally considered liberal on political matters, ruled in favor of the University, arguing that the school’s open-access policy, which requires that all school-sponsored clubs admit everyone regardless of their politics, religion, or sexual orientation, applied to CLS as well.
In its decision Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hastings. Writing for the majority, Justice Ginsberg said that the school’s all-comers policy “is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the student-organization form,” and that by trying to dodge the policy, CLS sought “not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy.”
Needless to say, the ruling was a major disappointment for CLS. “All college students, including religious students, should have the right to form groups around shared beliefs without being banished from campus,” said the group’s senior counsel Kim Colby in a press release. “Today’s ruling, however, will have limited impact. We are not aware of any other public university that has the exact same policy as Hastings.”
This marked yet another close 5-4 ruling from a deeply ideologically divided court, with the court’s swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, siding with the liberal wing to uphold Hastings’ dismissal of CLS. For dissent, Justice Samuel Alito wrote on behalf of the court’s conservative members that the decision “is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country” and that he “can only hope that this decision will turn out to be an aberration.”
Photo credit: Christian Legal Society