The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a public school has the legal right to deny a Christian campus group recognition and funding if it bars gays from becoming voting members and taking on leadership positions.
In a splintered 5-4 vote, the court ruled in favor of the unusual school policy of the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. The policy says that all campus groups must allow everybody to join, even if the person disagrees with the group's values and views.
The Christian Legal Society welcomes anyone, regardless of their beliefs, to join the Bible studies, clarified Jordan Lorence, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund that was on the team representing Christian Legal Society, to The Christian Post. But the group requires voting members and officers to sign a statement of faith that includes, among other beliefs, a line about "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle" as being inconsistent with the faith.
"It is very frustrating that the Supreme Court chose to rule on a policy that very few universities have," said Lorence.
ADF and CLS say they expect the Supreme Court ruling Monday to have little immediate effect because they are not aware of any other public university with the same exact policy as Hastings. However, they are concerned that in the long term the ruling will put other student groups at risk.
"The Hastings policy actually requires CLS to allow atheists to lead its Bible studies and the College Democrats to accept the election of Republican officers in order for the groups to be recognized on campus," explained ADF Senior Legal Counsel Gregory S. Baylor, in a statement. "We agree with Justice Alito in his dissent that the court should have rejected this as absurd."
Christian Legal Society had sued Hastings in order to receive recognition and funding from the school. But on Monday, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court's decision that the Christian group's First Amendment rights were not violated by the policy.
"In requiring CLS – in common with all other student organizations – to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the majority opinion. "CLS, it bears emphasis, seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings' policy."
Justice Samuel Alito, however, said the court's decision was "a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country."
"Brushing aside inconvenient precedent, the Court arms public educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups … I can only hope that this decision will turn out to be an aberration," Alito wrote in his dissent.
The Supreme Court has sent the case back down to the lower court to see if Hastings really abided by this policy regarding all campus groups.
Lorence said there is "a lot" of evidence that environmentalist and gay rights groups at Hastings are allowed to require officers to agree with their viewpoints in order to represent the groups.
The court ruling is confined to the Hastings policy and does not address nondiscrimination policies in general, ADF emphasized.
The Supreme Court ruling does not apply to private universities or the hiring practices of private, faith-based organizations that receive federal funds.