Court Rules Campus Group Cannot Discriminate

June 29, 2010

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in CLS v. Martinez that public colleges and universities may require campus-based religious organizations that want university recognition or funds to comply with that university’s anti-bias rules.

This ruling stems from a contentious lawsuit brought by the Christian Legal Society (CLS), a campus-based group at the Hastings College of Law, which is a part of the University of California school system. The Hastings College of Law bars campus-recognized groups from discrimination based on sexual orientation and thus refused funding to the CLS chapter because of their membership ban against gays and lesbians. CLS then sued Hastings, arguing that this infringed on its First Amendment right to religious freedom.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the university’s policy and now the Supreme Court has, too. In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court found that the law school’s policy was “a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access” that did not raise First Amendment issues in the way that CLS argued.

AAUW signed an amicus brief written by the Anti-Defamation League in support of Hastings’ position, and we’re pleased with this outcome. The issues surrounding this case clearly fall within our member-adopted Public Policy Program, which states that “we firmly believe in the separation of church and state” and that we support “vigorous protection of and full access to civil and constitutional rights.”

Barring one group of people from participation in a group can set a bad precedent and lead to a slippery slope toward the barring of other groups, and women are often caught in the crosshairs when this happens. Indeed, that’s what very well could have happened had the Supreme Court ruled the other way. If a campus group can bar one class of persons under the First Amendment, what would stop other groups of people from a similar fate? Schools should be sites for learning, the sharing of ideas, and inclusivity, not sites for creating exclusivity and discrimination.

As a strong advocate for the rights of members of the LGBQT community, I am outraged that a campus group would think it could ban those individuals and then fight for that belief all the way to the Supreme Court. I’m glad that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of human dignity, not intolerance.

Holly Kearl By:   |   June 29, 2010


  1. Avatar Adam says:

    It was not the anti-bias rule or nondiscrimination policy that was upheld; it was an “all-comers” policy. The policy also means that women’s groups (such as a women’s singing group or a support group for female survivors of sexual assault) would be derecognized at Hastings if they did not let men join and have full membership privileges. It also means that a pro-choice group would not be recognized if it wished to exclude pro-life students. It also means that an LGBQT group would not be recognized if it excluded anti-gay Christians from joining.

    It is surprising that such weird results are being defended.

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