In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hastings College of the Law (“Hastings” or the “law school”), a public law school in California, did not violate the First Amendment when it required a student group to adhere to a non-discrimination policy as a condition of becoming a Registered Student Organization (RSO) at the law school. The law school’s non-discrimination policy in effect required school-approved groups to allow students to participate, become a member or seek leadership positions within an organization regardless of their status or beliefs. Christian Legal Society (“CLS”), a student group at the law school, sought exemption from Hastings’ non-discrimination policy because its own bylaws prohibited students from becoming voting members or assuming leadership positions unless they disavowed “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” According to CLS, this included “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.” The law school denied RSO support to CLS in light of the group’s policy that excluded certain students because of their beliefs about homosexuality and religion. CLS subsequently sued the law school, claiming that Hastings’ non-discrimination policy violated CLS’s First Amendment rights in several respects.
A majority of the Court ruled in favor of the law school, holding that Hastings’ open access condition on RSO status was reasonable and viewpoint neutral. The majority opined that the law school’s justifications for its policy were sufficient to outweigh any First Amendment concerns. The majority emphasized the importance of ensuring that educational opportunities were available to all students. In addition, the majority noted that substantial alternate channels of communication remained open to CLS even in the absence of its having RSO status. In particular, by allowing non-school sponsored organizations such as CLS to use school facilities for meetings and activities, Hastings did “nothing to suppress CLS’s endeavors,” even though it declined to “lend RSO-level support for them.”
In light of this ruling, it is clear that non-discrimination policies such as the one Hastings enacted are constitutionally permissible. Moreover, public institutions will not be required to exempt certain student groups from content neutral “accept all comers” policies in an effort to comply with the First Amendment. To read more about Christian Legal Society, please click here. The full text of the opinion is available here.