The Supreme Court of the United States has rejected an appeal by Christian groups who wanted an exemption from a California state university nondiscrimination policy so they could be allowed to limit membership based on their religious belief while still receiving university backing.
The justices on Monday are leaving in place a federal appeals court ruling that found that the policy doesn’t violate the Constitution. The policy says officially recognized campus groups can’t discriminate based on religion or sexual orientation.
Susan Westover, head of the California State University system’s litigation unit, welcomed the Supreme Court decision,
“We don’t want our students to discriminate, just like we don’t want our employees to discriminate,” she said.
The Alliance Defense Fund, based on Scottsdale, Ariz., argued the case for the groups, David Cortman, senior counsel for the fund, said San Diego State will “remain a stronghold of censorship” as a result of the court decision.
The lawsuit, titled Alpha Delta Chi-Delta Chapter v. Reed, 11-744 and filed in 2005 by a Christian sorority and fraternity at San Diego State University, claimed that plaintiffs, per their religious beliefs, should be allowed to discriminate in what members it takes in and that the groups should not be denied the university’s support for doing so.
Such discrimination, the university administrators said, violated university policy and therefore meant that the university could not allow the host of privileges that go hand in hand with university backing such as student financing, use of university facilities and posting signs on campus.
A federal court subsequently ruled against Plaintiffs, finding that the university’s nondiscrimination policy does not violate the Constitution because the university is entitled to decide what its facilities are used for, and also that the rule does not require plaintiffs to give up their beliefs.
The Supreme Court’s decision to refuse this case avoids revisiting questions that resulted as part of a 2010 decision. In that case a law school had affirmed its right to deny recognition to a Christian student group that wouldn’t let gays join. A split Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that University of California’s Hastings College of the Law could refuse to recognize campus groups that excluded people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.
While the Alliance Defense Fund may view this as a religious opinion being censored, some Christian groups at the university have praised the decision.
“I think it’s a great policy. I don’t think there should be any discrimination at all, in any way,” said Curtis Lester, 22, a fifth-year student and president of the Aztec Christian Association.
Lester said school recognition has been critical for his group. Along with being able to use the school mascot in its name, the Aztec Christian Association posted signs on campus for a meeting that drew about 80 people on campus.
Jayson Nicholson, assistant for the Agape House Lutheran Episcopal Campus Ministry at San Diego State, said recognition allowed that group to recruit students at a table during Welcome Week for new students and hold religious services on campus. He enthusiastically backs the school policy.
“I personally feel it is positive not to discriminate in any way, shape or form,” he said.
The university’s decision to withdraw its backing from Plaintiffs’ campus group has meant that while the group has survived it has been unable to advertise on campus and has been restricted in what facilities it can use.