CFI Urges Supreme Court to Deny Religious Student Group’s Right to Violate Non-Discrimination Policy

March 16, 2010

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On Monday, March 15, the Center for Inquiry submitted an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez .  CFI argued that religious student organizations do not have the constitutional right to violate public colleges' non-discrimination policies. 

The case concerns a student chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the University of California, Hastings College of Law.  CLS sued the school after being denied official recognition and funding because the student group excluded non-Christian, gay and lesbian students, in violation of the school's non-discrimination policy.  That policy requires that student groups can receive funding and official recognition only if they are open to all students. 

A panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled unanimously against CLS because the school's policy prohibited every student group, whether religious or secular, from excluding students that disagree with the group's mission.  CLS appealed that decision, claiming that it had a constitutional right -- not enjoyed by any secular organizations -- to receive state funding while discriminating against students on the basis of religion and sexual orientation.  

CFI argued that student groups that want to exclude certain classes of students should not demand school subsidies and official recognition.  CFI further argued that the school's non-discrimination does not impose any substantial burden on the student organization's free speech rights.  CLS members are still permitted to use school facilities without official recognition and funding from the school.  Moreover, if CLS had abided by the school's non-discrimination policy, it would have received school funding and would not have been prevented from expressing its views about religion and homosexuality.

CFI's brief also argued that religious organizations do not have a constitutional right to special exemptions from generally applicable regulations.  CFI urged the Supreme Court to reject the student organization's "invitation to ignore an unbroken line of precedent denying groups exemptions from generally applicable laws based solely on [the group's] religious beliefs."

CFI's brief was drafted by Carmine D. Boccuzzi, Jorge G. Tenreiro, Benjamin N. Brust and Justin L. Ormand at the New York City firm of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, with input from attorneys at CFI.  Click here to access an electronic (.pdf) copy of the brief.