United States Supreme Court Narrowly Upholds Right of University to Deny all Student Organizations the Right to Control their Membership and Leadership, but Remands Case to Determine Whether University's Policy, As Applied, Violates 1st Amendment

An Advocates International Advocacy Briefing           
June 28, 2010


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The case concerned UC Hastings College of the Law's refusal to recognize the Christian Legal Society (CLS) as a registered student group. Hastings based its refusal on the fact that even though all students may attend and participate in CLS meetings, events and activities, voting members and group leaders must sign a "Statement of Faith" that expresses CLS' belief in  a Christian worldview.

At issue is a provision stating that "[a] person who advocates or unrepentantly engages in sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman is not considered to be living consistently with the Statement of Faith and, therefore, is not eligible for leadership or voting membership." The statement clarifies that "[a] person's mere experience of same-sex or opposite-sex sexual attraction does not determine his or her eligibility for leadership or voting membership." Hastings argues that this provision violates the university's ban on "sexual orientation" discrimination, despite the fact that the provision conditions membership on changeable conduct and belief, not immutable status.

Hastings' restriction on freedom of association was eventually found constitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the ground that the policy was viewpoint neutral and applied equally to all student groups, even though in practice it prevented only CLS from existing with equal (or any) recognition on campus.

Today the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit and narrowly held that Hastings' so called "all-comers" policy, on its face, does not constitute an unconstitutional deprivation of CLS law students' rights of free expression, religion and associations so long as it denies the right of all student  groups to limit its membership or leadership.  The Court leaves it the courts below and the parties to further litigate whether Hastings in the case has in fact unconstitutionally applied its policy only against CLS in a pretextual and  discriminatory fashion.

For CLS' Press Release on the Court's Decision today click here.

For a complete case history, click here.

For a history of all the universities who have so discriminated against CLS since 1993 click here.


Calling all Advocates

We are looking to identify, train, equip and mobilize advocates,like you, all over the world who are inspired by our core values and want to protect and defend religious freedom, the rule of law, the right to life, peace and reconcilation, human rights and justice for the poor.  You can join with us by going to our web site and signing on!  Thanks.

  United States Supreme Court Narrowly Upholds Right of University to Deny all Student Organizations the Right to Control their Membership and Leadership, but Remands Case to Determine Whether University's "All Comers"  Policy, As Applied, Violates Religious Student Organizations' Freedoms of Expression, Religion and Association.

The United States Supreme Court narrowly held today that a government 'all comers' being imposed by the University of California's Hastings College of Law to exclude recognition of Christian Legal Society's (CLS) law student organization at the school, on the basis of CLS' Statement of Christian Faith, is not unconstitutional so long as it is equally applied to all University recognized student groups to bar all such groups from limiting its leadership or membership in any way.  The Court further remanded the case to the courts below to determine whether the policy  had been or was currently being applied equally to all such student groups.  For more details seeAI's Press release.

A serious concern of Advocates International (AI), its six regional networks and 100 national affiliates is the growing worldwide government denial of the fundamental rights of freedom of speech, association and religion in cases analogous to this one where private religious fellowships who otherwise pose no threat to public health or safety, like the CLS Law Student Chapter in this case, are discriminatorily denied registration or recognition because of their disfavored religious beliefs, ideals or commitments.  Having filed a  "friend of the court" in support of CLS in this case, Advocates International remains concerned and is disappointed that the Supreme Court's decision is likely too narrow to have much influence upon courts around the world to similarly protect student's rights of free expression, religious free exercise and association.




What Can you Do Now?
You can make a difference. You can pray. You can give to help defray the costs AI incurred to write, print and file its "friend of the court" brief in support of the Christian Legal Society (CLS). You can share the lessons of this case with others and start a similar organization on your law school campus, if one does not already exist.
AI Attorneys Sam Ericsson, Sam Casey and Bart Waxman with Professor McConnell  (2nd from the left)
For the next day or so offer a prayer of thanksgiving for Professor Michael McConnell who  argued the case and told the press today:  "We believe we will ultimately prevail in this case. The record will show that Hastings law school applied its policy in a discriminatory way--excluding CLS from campus but not other groups who limit leadership and voting membership in a similar way. The Supreme Court did not rule that public universities can apply different rules to religious groups than they apply to political, cultural, or other student groups."

Please also pray for the entire CLS - ADF team who brought this case forward. Pray

that courts will affirm students' freedoms of expression, religion and association to freely meet together without preference or discrimination by the government.

CLS & Alliance Defense Fund Litigation Team

Please pray for and encourage law student organizations, like CLS, all over the world that they will be inspired to bear witness to their faith, doing justice with compassion, redeeming the times,  not only in the class room and on campus, but in all they do in the study and practice of law.


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