Supreme Court Upholds Public University Nondiscrimination Policy

6/28/2010– The Human Rights Campaign – the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization – today praised the U.S. Supreme Court for ruling against a Christian law student group that sought official recognition by a public university but refused to abide by the school’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. The case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, was brought against the University of California, Hastings College of Law, which has a longstanding nondiscrimination policy that must be adopted by all student groups in order to receive school recognition, which includes access to school funds. Groups that do not have official recognition are still permitted to meet and use school facilities.

The Court ruled, 5-4, that the university’s policy does not infringe the First Amendment rights of Christian Legal Society (CLS) because it requires all student groups to accept all students as members. While the case dealt with the application of a public university nondiscrimination policy, its outcome could have had greater implications on how governments can require organizations which receive taxpayer dollars to abide by neutral nondiscrimination policies and laws, including those that protect the LGBT community.

Writing for the majority, Justice Ginsburg noted, “[i]n requiring CLS—in common with all other student organizations—to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations. CLS, it bears emphasis, seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy. The First Amendment shields CLS against state prohibition of the organization’s expressive activity, however exclusionary that activity may be. But CLS enjoys no constitutional right to state subvention of its selectivity.”

“Today, the Court upheld an important principle for all Americans, that government should not be forced to subsidize discrimination,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “UC Hastings and schools like it all over the country have worked hard to create welcoming spaces for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Today’s decision bolsters those efforts, while recognizing that Christian Legal Society, and groups like it, are free exclude whomever they want – without the financial support of their fellow students or taxpayers.”

HRC joined the Anti-Defamation League, People for the American Way Foundation, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, American Association of University Women and National Council of Jewish Women on an amicus brief focusing on one of those potential impacts beyond universities – namely, on whether religious recipients of public funds (for the provision of social services or other programs) can be required to abide by neutral anti-discrimination rules. HRC has worked for many years, along with ADL and other groups, against allowing faith-based groups to use federal funding to discriminate based on religion, including as a proxy for discrimination against LGBT people, either in employment or in providing services.

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