Constitutional Principles Collide in Supreme Court Battle between Christian Legal Society and Cal-Hastings Law School

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case that asks “whether a public university law school may deny school funding and other benefits to a religious student organization because the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious viewpoints” (from SCOTUS Wiki).

 The CLS chapter on the UC Hastings campus, when it chose earlier in the decade to affiliate with the national Christian Legal Society, began to require that its members sign a “statement of faith” centered around Christian values.  The school determined that requiring this statement of faith as a condition of membership violated the school’s non-discrimination policy, which, according SCOTUS Wiki, “forbids recognized [student] groups to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex, or sexual orientation.”  The chapter sued to protect its right to religious expression, while the law school declared that it could not sanction discriminatory practices among its officially recognized student groups (which get funding and in-kind benefits from the school to carry out their activities).  Thusly, a thorny constitutional showdown came to be. 

PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly has a piece interviewing the parties, and the Constitutional Law Prof Blog links to video recordings of panel discussions hosted by both the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.

EDIT (4/18/10): the Washington Post’s Robert Barnes, who is, for the PSLawNet Blog’s money, one of the best Supreme Court reporters out there, contributed a nice summary of the case to today’s paper:

At the oldest law school in the West, law is being made this semester, not just taught.

In a case that carries great implications for how public universities and schools must accommodate religious groups, the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law is defending its anti-discrimination policy against charges that it denies religious freedom.

The college, which requires officially recognized student groups to admit any Hastings student who wants to join, may be well-meaning, says the student outpost of the Christian Legal Society. But the group contends that requiring it to allow gay students and nonbelievers into its leadership would be a renunciation of its core beliefs, and that the policy violates the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech, association with like-minded individuals and exercise of religion.

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