The Supreme Court this morning agreed to take up the first church-state case of the term, a dispute over recognition of the Christian Legal Society's chapter at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. The case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, stems from the state law school's denial of official recognition to the Christian student group because it does not conform to the school's requirement that membership and leadership positions be open to all.
The Hastings chapter of the society requires members and officials to sign a statement of faith that vows devotion to Jesus Christ and has been interpreted to bar those with a "sexually immoral lifestyle." Student groups that are officially recognized are eligible for meeting space, means of communicating with students, and student funds for their activities.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in an unpublished two-sentence ruling in March, said the law school's action was "viewpoint neutral and reasonable." The society, in asking for high court review, asserted that the 9th Circuit decision is in clear conflict with a 2006 7th Circuit decision involving the same organization, Christian Legal Society v. Walker. In that case, which originated at the Southern Illinois University School of Law, the court found that the Christian group's message would be weakened if it was forced to accept members who disagree with it, thereby violating its First Amendment rights.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reacted to today's high court action with a statement by executive director Barry Lynn: “Public schools have every right – indeed, an obligation – to refuse to advance religious discrimination. Groups that wish to engage in discrimination should not expect public subsidies.”
The Court also heard arguments in two cases. More on today's Supreme Court action later at nlj.com