Christian campus groups that are officially recognized by public universities must be open to accepting gay students as members or they risk losing recognition and funding, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.
In a 5-4 split decision, the court ruled in favor of the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, which barred the Christian Legal Society from recognition and funding because it would not accept members who were engaged in homosexual relationships, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The ruling states that campus groups cannot bar any student that wishes to become a member or move into a leadership position, even if that person does not agree with the group’s beliefs.
A school "may reasonably draw a line in the sand permitting all organizations to express what they wish but no group to discriminate in membership," wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the majority opinion that hailed from the liberal side of the bench.
The Christian Legal Society (CLS) says that it welcomes all students to join its meetings and Bible studies, but requires voting members and leaders to sign a statement of faith that includes, among other beliefs, a line about “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.”
The group says that it does not expect the ruling to have an immediate effect, because it is not aware of any other schools that have the same policy as Hastings. However, it is concerned about the long-term effects of the decision.
“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,” Gregory S. Baylor, a lawyer representing the Christian Legal Society, said in a statement.
Official recognition gives groups access to small grants, the college’s e-mail network and meeting rooms on school property. Now the Christian Legal Society will not have access to any of these things.
Justice Samuel Alito, in a minority opinion, called the ruling "a serious setback for freedom of expression." He was joined by conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts.
"The court arms public educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups," he wrote. [sfgate.com, 6/29/10, washingtonpost.com, 6/29/10]