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Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty comments on ‘Christian Legal Society v. Martinez’ ruling

June 28, 2010

cls-v-martinez-bugWASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court today announced that public colleges and universities may require recognized student organizations to comply with an “all-comers” policy in order to receive associated benefits. In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Court rejected the Christian Legal Society’s (CLS) claim that the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law’s policy violated its rights to free speech, expressive association and free exercise of religion.

In a 5-4 decision authored by Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court says Hastings did not violate the Constitution in requiring CLS “to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition” because its “all-comers” policy was applicable to all student groups, religious and secular alike, on the Hastings campus.  The Court went on to say that Hastings “may reasonably draw a line in the sand permitting all organizations to express what they wish but no group to discriminate in membership.”

Click here to read the rest of the BJC statement on the ruling.

Click here to download a pdf of the brief filed by the BJC in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.

Click here to read a Q&A on the case with BJC General Counsel K. Hollyn Hollman.

The case presented a conflict between Hastings’ interest in nondiscrimination and CLS’s right to define its membership in order to protect its expressive interests.  Hastings denied recognition to CLS because CLS requires all members to sign a faith statement and be subject to its standards for moral conduct—that is, they “discriminate” based on religion. Hastings grants recognition to a wide variety of student clubs, providing a forum and attendant benefits (including funding from mandatory student fees) that allows them to meet on campus outside of class time to pursue various interests. Such groups, however, must allow any student to join, ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to benefit from the school’s programs and activities, regardless of status.

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty submitted the only friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of neither party.  In its brief, which was also joined by The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, the Baptist Joint Committee maintained that what Hastings has given with one hand – a forum for student clubs to organize around common interests – it has taken away with the other by conditioning access to the forum with acceptance of the all-comers policy. The brief urged the U.S. Supreme Court to avoid rendering a decision that sanctions either direct funding of a private religious organization and their religious activities or that unduly curtails the expressive association rights of the organization.

The Baptist Joint Committee’s view of this case was primarily one concerning religious groups’ “equal access” to public forums and facilities generally available to non-religious groups, but only so far as government entities stay out of the business of funding religion, said BJC General Counsel K. Hollyn Hollman.

Hollman said, “While equal access to a student forum facilitates religious expression without creating the risk of government endorsement of religion, a public university’s funding of religious student groups beyond the incidental sort previously upheld by the Court threatens an Establishment Clause violation and confuses the application of equal access to the forum.”

The Court emphasized the fact that even after being denied official recognition, CLS continued to have access to the Hastings campus and prospered. The Court gave deference to the university regarding the purpose of the forum. If students begin to exploit an all-comers policy – by joining a group to sabotage it – the Court says Hastings presumably would revisit and revise its policy.  Despite the potential for such mischief, the Court maintained that the all-comers policy was reasonable under the circumstances and that “the advisability of Hastings’ policy does not control its permissibility.”

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for possible consideration of whether Hastings selectively enforces its all-comers policy.

The Baptist Joint Committee is a 74-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty organization that works to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, bringing a uniquely Baptist witness to the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.

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