Public colleges and universities should have the constitutional right to deny funding and official recognition to student clubs that engage in religious discrimination, a trio of religious and civil liberties groups has told the Supreme Court.
The organizations – Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – filed a friend-of-the-court brief March 15 urging the justices to rule in favor of the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in a pending case.
Christian Legal Society v. Martinez concerns a student chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at Hastings that sued the school after it was denied official university recognition. Hastings officials said the CLS chapter violated school policies by denying membership and officer positions to non-Christians, gays and others who run afoul of CLS’s faith statement.
“Public colleges have every right to deny funding and official recognition to student groups that discriminate,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “If students want to form a club that excludes others, they shouldn’t demand school subsidies or official status.”
In the brief, the groups assert that non-discrimination is an important social value that public universities have the right to promote.
“The University has a legitimate interest in ensuring that the student activity fees all students must pay support only those groups that are open to all students,” observes the brief. “Especially in light of the history of invidious discrimination on college campuses, UC-Hastings has a strong interest in avoiding the appearance of facilitating discrimination by its officially recognized and funded student groups.”
The brief goes on to note that the law school’s anti-discrimination policy imposes no serious hardship on the CLS chapter at Hastings. CLS members are still permitted to meet on campus and use school facilities without official recognition and school funding.
“Because CLS does not need to be an official student group to communicate its message effectively to the Hastings student body,” the brief asserts, “the group’s First Amendment interest in discriminating against non-believers and the University’s interest in ensuring that its sanctioned extracurricular activities are open to all students are not incompatible.”
The brief was drafted by a team of attorneys at the New York City firm of Jones Day, with input from attorneys at the American Jewish Committee and Americans United.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.