Supreme Court Update


BOB ABERNETHY, host: The Supreme Court wrapped up its current term this week with a 5-4 ruling in a case closely watched by religious groups. It pitted a publicly funded law school’s policy of no racial, religious, or sexual discrimination against a Christian group’s claim that it should be able to discriminate regarding its members and their beliefs. As Tim O’Brien reports, the law school won. If a group there discriminates, it cannot receive public support.

TIM O’BRIEN, correspondent: The Court ruled that the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law could deny funding and access to school facilities to the local chapter of the Christian Legal Society, because the chapter denies voting rights to students who refuse to embrace the group’s religious beliefs, which include opposition to sex outside of marriage and same sex marriage. Lawyers representing the Christian Legal Society had asked the Court to rule that that violates the chapter’s freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Greg Baylor

GREG BAYLOR (Attorney, Christian Legal Society): What we’re talking about here is the ability of a group to preserve its message, and it doesn’t make sense for a public university to say to a private student group you have to give up your Christian faith in order to get the same privileges that other groups have.

O’BRIEN: But dividing 5-4, the Supreme Court sided with the law school, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing the law school’s nondiscrimination policy is “a reasonable condition.” The Christian Legal Society is not entitled to a “preferential exemption.”

Justice Samuel Alito led the four dissenters:

“Brushing aside inconvenient precedent the Court arms public educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups. … I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today’s decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country.”

Leo Martinez

The Court’s majority was heavily influenced by the law school’s claim that its nondiscrimination policy was not just aimed at discrimination based on sexual orientation, but that it was against all discrimination. The defendant in the case, Dean Leo Martinez, said under the school’s broad policy a Jewish student group would have to admit Muslims.

LEO MARTINEZ (Dean, Hastings College of the Law): The short answer is yes.

O’BRIEN: A black student organization would have to admit white supremacists?

MARTINEZ: It would.

O’BRIEN: Even if it means a black student organization is going to have to admit members of the Ku Klux Klan?

MARTINEZ: Yes. There’s a Spanish saying to the effect that the thinnest of tortillas has two sides, and the other side of that is that any other regime, we would be forced, using public money, to subsidize the discriminatory practices of a particular group.

O’BRIEN: Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the crucial fifth vote, said the outcome would have been different if the Christian Legal Society could show outsiders were trying to infiltrate the group to stifle its views, and all nine justices agreed the chapter will still have a case should the university apply different standards to the Christian Legal Society than it does to all other student organizations.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Tim O’Brien at the Supreme Court.

ABERNETHY: Religious groups had mixed reactions to the court’s decision. Some, especially those that support gay rights, praised it as a blow against discrimination. But others worried that the ruling could hinder a religious group’s ability to define itself by its beliefs. Several faith-based groups that receive public money said the decision should not be allowed to affect their right to hire only people who share their beliefs.

  • Retired college prof.

    It’s simple——the law is the law. Any group that wants to discriminate on any basis must forgo public funding.
    If this means that various groups who wish to discriminate on any basis, however logical or religious, have to forgo public funding, tough. In fact, it is probably a good thing.

    Universities and colleges today are under the gun trying to balance their budgets in favor of all students and of retaining faculty. Why should private groups or organisations of various sorts be enabled to expect public support just because they are student groups? My being a member of, say, the Audubon Society of my state does not entitle the society to receive public funds. Zillions of non-education-institution organisations are privately funded. Why should any of these student groups get public funds? It’s ridiculous.
    Welcome to the real world.

  • Boyd Wilson

    I applaud the ruling. However, I am concerned about the 4 dissenters. We’ve already moved beyond polygamy, forced marriage of minors, denying medical care to children based on religious beliefs, etc. We should not allow ignorance to hide behind the shield of “religious freedom.”

  • Phos hilaron

    Christians do not speak with one voice on the issues espoused by this organization. The reason we do not have religious warfare in the United States is the First Amendment. It removes the hope of religious domination and the fear of religious persecution from the election cycle. Striking a balance between establishing religion through public funding and inhibiting the free exercise by denying public funding to groups with an avowed religious purpose will never be entirely satisfactory but it must be done for everyone’s protection.

  • Channah

    ”give up your Christian faith in order to get the same privileges that other groups have.”

    You do not have to give up your beliefs–just learn to keep your mouth shut and go about your business quietly. Christians have a habit of wanting to broadcast their beliefs and try to push them on everyone else.

  • Joe McCarthy

    A superb decsion which in my view vindicates the “expression thereof” clause. The 9th United States Circuit also upheld a similar view in Barnes-Wallace v boy Scouts of America on a “States Rights” decsion of April 12, 2004..
    I see ths decsion as a vindication to Catholicism and the derision which her adherents have faced with most vitrolic assertion of the Catholic Priesthood.
    This lies at the politics of religion, it speaks to those whom seek moral and legal standing which are not always consistent with belief sets of other denominations. If the givernemnt has established norms, a republic ddoes that, if we accept Judicial philosophy, then funds to ant faith group should be self funfded and outside any mechanism of Stae of federal schems. This may be an Accomodations Clause at its best.
    We all share ideas, beliefs….Government has a duty to be silent in her ascent to any or all beliefs including any financial support.

  • Kathy Reichard

    I read through the article and comments. I hope that we all would take the stance that we do to others what we wish to be done to ourselves. I agree that all sorts of groups ( peaceloving, loyal to our country’s ideals) should be allowed on educational campuses. That they receive public funding is not necessarily a good thing. Whatever the government funds, they tend to control. Just look at the documentary, “Food, Inc.” It shows how our government is full of doublespeak. On one hand, they are there to protect our freedoms and our interests, and on the other hand, they are pursuing their own interests, and undermining the freedom of others. Ideologically, there are alot of good things about our country. But, if you look at the current state of our government and society, you will see there is alot of hypocrisy. The money is not always where the mouth is. Recognizing the nature of politics and governments you don’t have to be thrown for a loop when rulings like this are made.

  • Hugh (Bart) Vincelette

    This is a superb decision that should have been unanimous. The group in question doesn’t seek to discriminate against those with opposing beliefs, but to discriminate against people simply because of who they are in life. I have to question how they could eventually practice law within a diverse and presumably; equal; society.