Sunday, January 22, 2012

Certiorari to the US supreme court: Christian Legal Society vs. Hastings College of the Law

     The Supreme Court agreed to review an appeals case from the Christian Legal Society who had been denied recognition by the Hastings College of Law on grounds of discrimination. The Christian Legal Society (C.L.S) allows all students to participate in their activities but only those who “disavow ‘unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” may assume leadership positions or becoming voting members in the group. Because Hastings has an open membership rule regarding student organized groups which requires all groups to accept all new comers as voting members regardless of their acceptance of the groups’ mission, Hastings withdrew recognition from the C.L.S as they didn’t comply with the school policy. The US states court of appeals for the ninth circuit ruled in favor of Hastings and Judge Diane S. Skyes wrote to the court arguing for C.L.S by stating that the group would cease to exist if it couldn’t convey its message effectively because it had to accept members which didn’t agree with its mission. Judge Diane P. Wood argued that there would be a lack of diversity in American universities if exclusionary groups, such as C.L.S which accepted members upon conformity, were existent on campuses. 

     The main issue is that of discrimination against certain students due to their sexual orientation, and to a certain degree, also due to their religious beliefs. C.L.S required students to hold orthodox Christian beliefs, in particular, the C.L.S orthodox Christian beliefs, without which they would be unable to fully participate in the group. According to the School Policy, no student can be restricted from voting membership into a group solely due to their beliefs or sexual orientation. As a student from C.L.S states in the article, it’s hard to “reconcile anti-discrimination principles with religious freedom in the context of public higher education.” Ultimately, the court must decide whether to uphold anti-discrimination principles or uphold the religious freedom at the cost of infringement of student and human rights. 

     In my opinion, The Court of Appeals for the ninth circuit was logically and constitutionally right to rule in favor of Hastings. This case is like many others which debates over the importance of religious freedom versus anti-discrimination principle which both hold a significant place in the American legal system and History. America, as many argue, is a land of freedom and such cases challenge the American legal system to choose between certain types of freedoms such as religious and human rights (sexual orientation/lifestyle/etc.). One is allowed to exercise one’s own freedom as long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of others, and in this case, C.L.S fails to abide by this criterion. C.L.S allows for all students to participate but only those with a certain set of beliefs and lifestyle can hold leadership and be voting members. This is similar to the Bob Jones vs. US(1983) where the university stated they allowed African-Americans to go to school but only if they abided by certain rules like no interracial relationships. An institution cannot refuse membership due to things like sexual orientation, lifestyle, relationship status, race, because such things are the basis of discrimination as most are unchangeable by individuals. Also, Judge Diane P. Wood has a good argument concerning diversity and its importance to current American universities. Hastings sought to protect the rights of the students which C.L.S infringed upon while exercising religious freedom, and if the supreme court rules in favor of C.L.S, it is sending the message that religious freedom holds more importance in American law than human rights do.


Catherine S said...

I agree with your assessment of the case. The article states that the law school is a part of the University of California, which is a public school. Public schools (whether university level or lower) should not allow groups that discriminate for any reason (sex, race, religion, sexuality, etc.). Public schools receive public funding and should follow the anti-discrimination laws set by the nation. If a group is allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation, it is as if the country is regressing back to the times of racial segregation.

Blake_S said...

I also agree with your original opinion on this issue and with Catherine S. This issue of discrimination is one that is interesting because there is a challenge between religious belief and those members desiring to participate. In this case there is a question of environment and within a system of higher education, there are state regulations regarding funding and public meeting space for the club. Many of these regulations describe policies that do not allow discrimination due to their place within the public sphere. Religious freedom is something many claim but it also comes into question when it infringes on the practices of others, especially when their money is going to funding these organizations they cannot participate in.