Is it discrimination to not allow discrimination backed by religion? This is an oversimplification of the question asked in Christian Law Society v. Martinez (PDF), but the Supreme Court ruled on it today in the negative.
Here’s a quick and dirty review of the facts:
1) Hastings is a public law school.
2) Hastings implemented a generally applicable and “viewpoint-neutral” policy (legal talk for it applied to everyone and didn’t target any one group for enforcement) that said no student group with official status was allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, sexual orientation, etc.
3) The Christian Legal Society (CLS) asked to be exempted from this policy because they wished to make every member affirm the following:
Trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior, I believe in:
• One God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
• God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
• The Deity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary; His vicarious death for our sins through which we receive eternal life; His bodily resurrection and personal return.
• The presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the work of regeneration.
• The Bible as the inspired Word of God.”
CLS also interpreted this affirmation as requiring them to exclude homosexuals and non-Christians from their group.
4) Hastings took away CLS’s official group status.
5) CLS sued saying Hastings’ nondiscrimination policy and subsequent derecognition of CLS violated their free speech and free association rights.
It was a close 5-4 decision but we now know that “(c)ompliance with Hastings’ all-comers policy… is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the student-organization forum. In requiring CLS — in common with all other student organizations — to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition… Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations” (emphasis added).
This is very good news for Secular Americans because it upholds the notion that a group can’t use religion to hide their hate and wiggle out of laws and rules that apply to everybody else.
Additionally, because Hastings is a public institution, it protects atheist and homosexual students from funding their own discrimination with tax money and student activity fees they pay the school.
You can read the full (85 page) opinion here.
Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion (and was joined by Justices Sotomayor and Breyer). Justices Stevens and Kennedy filed separate concurring opinions.
Justice Alito wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Roberts, Scalia and Thomas.
According to Howard Friedman:
The dissent argued that the Court should focus on the non-discrimination policy as written, since that was the policy originally invoked to deny CLS registration. That policy, the dissent argues, amounts to viewpoint discrimination since only religious groups are required to admit students who do not share their views. Political groups or groups formed around other causes can limit membership. The dissent goes on to argue that even limiting the analysis to the broader all-comers rule, the policy is unconstitutional. It was adopted as a pretext to suppress a particular viewpoint and it is not reasonable in light of the purposes of the student organization policy which is promoting diversity among student organizations.