The Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (Hastings) is a student chapter of the national Christian Legal Society, whose purposes include fellowship, promoting justice and religious liberty, Biblical conflict resolution, and discipling and nurturing Christian law students. CLS filed a lawsuit in October 2004 against school officials who denied the group official recognition because CLS would not agree to accept members and officers who openly oppose its Christian beliefs. CLS asked Hastings officials in early September 2004 to exempt the group and other religious student organizations from the religion and sexual orientation portions of Hastings’ Policy on Nondiscrimination. The policy forced CLS, and other campus religious groups who want to be recognized, to accept non-Christian members and officers to gain official recognition and have access to campus facilities. Hastings denied CLS’s request, stating: “[T]o be one of our student-recognized organizations, the CLS chapter must open its membership to all students irrespective of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation.” The University then stripped CLS of its yearly funding, despite promises already made by Hastings officials to provide for certain chapter related expenses.
ADF allied attorneys at CLS appealed the district court’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in May 2006. On March 17, 2009, the Ninth Circuit issued a one paragraph opinion rejecting CLS’s appeal. CLS appealed to the Supreme Court, and on June 28, 2010, the Court ruled against the group.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision that strips all student organizations of their ability to self-determine what message they will convey on campus and who will be a member of the organization that conveys it. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5–4 to uphold the unusual university policy that forces student groups to allow outsiders who disagree with their beliefs to become leaders and voting members. The court confined its opinion to the unique policy and did not address whether nondiscrimination policies in general, which are typical on public university campuses, may require this. The court concluded that public universities may override a religious student group’s right to determine its leadership only if it denies that right to all student groups.
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