The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a non-discrimination policy at a California law school against a legal challenge from a Christian group seeking to discriminate against LGBT people.
In a 5-4 decision, justices determined in the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez that a non-discrimination policy protecting LGBT people at the University of California, Hastings College of Law is consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
The Hastings Christian Fellowship at the school sought to overturn Hastings’ non-discrimination policy to maintain its status as an official school group while prohibiting LGBT people from holding positions as officers.
The fellowship contended the school’s policy violated the chapter’s freedom of association and speech under the First Amendment.
But U.S. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — who wrote the majority opinion in the ruling — said the school’s policy is constitutional because it’s “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, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations,” she writes.
Joining Ginsburg in the majority opinion were Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Associate Justice John Paul Stevens marked his last day on the bench by filing a concurring opinion.
While upholding Hastings’ policy, the court also remanded to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals an assertion by the Christian Legal Society that Hastings has been selectively applying its non-discrimination policy.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito filed the dissent. In his opinion, Alito writes that the Supreme Court didn’t properly address the constitutionality of Hastings’ policy and is setting precedent that could stifle free speech.
“Brushing aside inconvenient precedent, the Court arms public educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups,” Alito writes.
Joining Alito in the dissenting opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts as well as Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
In the majority opinion, Ginsburg notes as an official group, the Christian Legal Society chapter would be entitled to financial assistance from the school derived from mandatory student fees.
She writes current policy in place “ensures that no Hastings student is forced to fund a group that would reject her as a member.”
Additionally, Ginsburg emphasizes that although Hastings may exclude the Christian Legal Society chapter as an official group — or as a registered student organization — the organization still has some capacity to meet and communicate on campus.
“In this case, Hastings offered CLS access to school facilities to conduct meetings and the use of chalkboards and generally available bulletin boards to advertise events,” Ginsburg writes. “Although CLS could not take advantage of RSO-specific methods of communication … the advent of electronic media and social-networking sites reduces the importance of those channels.”
In a statement, Christopher Stoll, senior attorney for the National Center of Lesbian Rights, said the decision “affirmed the longstanding doctrine” that non-discrimination policies don’t “violate free speech when applied in a consistent and even-handed way.”
“The Court rejected the dangerous argument that anti-gay groups must be given a special exemption from non-discrimination policies,” Stoll said.
NCLR was among the groups representing Outlaw, Hastings’ LGBT student group, which intervened to defend Hastings’ nondiscrimination policy.
The Hastings College of Law and the Christian Legal Society didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to comment.