Another religious liberty case is escalating on a college campus. The Alliance Defense Fund filed a petition this week with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of two religious groups at San Diego State University.
The ADF petition asks the Supreme Court to weigh in on a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit against Christian student organizations at SDSU. If it decides to take on Alpha Delta Chi v. Reed, the case could ultimately decide the future of how Christian groups at universities can operate.
The original 9th Circuit ruling involved Christian sorority Alpha Delta Chi and fraternity Alpha Gamma Omega. These groups required their leaders to agree with a statement of faith. Because of that, they were denied official recognition by the university because SDSU said Christian groups were discriminating against people based on religious beliefs.
ADF took the case because other nonreligious SDSU campus groups were allowed to determine membership based on certain criteria, like an affiliation with a political party, or in the case of sororities and fraternities, gender.
These same rights were denied to religious student groups, as the university wouldn’t allow the Christian groups to require that their members and officers share the religious views of the groups themselves.
ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said in a statement Thursday, “The university is not telling the Democratic club it must be led by a Republican, or the vegetarian club that it must be led by a meat-eater, but it is telling Christian groups that they must allow themselves to be led by atheists. The First Amendment protects the right of all student groups to employ belief-based criteria in selecting their members and leaders.”
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ruled in favor of the school and cited another case decided by the Supreme Court last year, Christian Legal Society v. Wu (Martinez), as part of its reasoning.
In the CLS v. Martinez decision, the court concluded that public universities may override a religious student group’s right to determine its leadership only if it denies that right to all student groups. But SDSU’s policy only denies that right to religious student groups, which ADF says is unlawful discrimination based upon a group’s viewpoint.
The justices in the CLS v. Martinez case expressly declined to expand their ruling to instances when a nondiscrimination policy is applied selectively, which is the issue now at question in ADX v. Reed. The ADF lawsuit filed Wednesday presents the question the Supreme Court left open when it decided the CLS v. Martinez case.
“The university should be a marketplace of ideas, not a place where political correctness is placed ahead of the constitutionally protected rights of all students, including students of faith,” said Cortman.
He went on to say that “the 9th Circuit’s ruling against these Christian student groups poses a serious threat to religious liberty well beyond the university campus.”
“It also allows religious groups to be punished for ‘discrimination’ simply because they maintain a consistent identity and message by selecting members and leaders who share their religious beliefs – a practice that is common among all religious groups and a natural part of the free exercise of religion.”
Jeremy Tedesco, legal counsel for ADF, told The Christian Post that the university has 30 days to file a response and he expects the Supreme Court to decide if they will hear the case sometime at the beginning of next year. He said he hopes they decide to take it because this case is “critically important for religious freedom.”