Court Denies Students Free Association
Special Report - April 1, 2009
On March 17, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a single paragraph unpublished order upholding a public university law school’s decision to deny official campus recognition to the Christian Legal Society. The University of California Hastings College of Law argued that its open membership rule which prohibits discrimination based on religion or sexual orientation allowed it to deny recognition and funding for the religious student group that requires members and officers to be professed Christians. Denial of campus recognition deprives the Christian Legal Society of funding, access to official student recruitment events, the school website, and campus publications. In a memorandum, the Court found that Hastings’ open membership rule was “viewpoint neutral and reasonable” as established in the 2008 case Truth v. Kent School District. In Kent a similar religious high school group was denied the ability to require that members agree with the mission of the group. An application for review of Kent is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 9th Circuit’s decision in both of these cases places it in conflict with very similar cases decided by the 7th Circuit and 2nd Circuit Courts of Appeals. The 7th Circuit case involved a college campus and student group and the 2nd Circuit case involved a high school campus and student group. In both instances, the Courts found in favor of the student group. Additionally, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to rule on a case involving denial of privileges and services to the Beta Upsilon Chi fraternity at the University of Florida because the fraternity requires its members to be both Christians and men.
“Free association is a fundamental first amendment right that all Americans, including University students, are entitled to,” said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “We hope that the conflicting recognition and protection of these students’ rights by the Courts will be settled by a U.S. Supreme Court that restores common sense to the notion that groups founded on principles have the basic right to require members to subscribe to those principles.”
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.