Student Religious Group That Discriminates Should Not Get Public Funding, Americans United Tells Appellate Court

Church-State Watchdog Group Says Hastings Law School Is Right To Refuse Aid To Christian Legal Society Chapter That Rejects Non-Christians, Gays

A public university is right to deny funding to a student group that discriminates on the basis of religion and sexual orientation, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Americans United argues that Hastings College of Law, a part of the University of California system, does not have to officially recognize and support a student organization that excludes law students who do not subscribe to a certain type of Christianity or are gay.

“Public universities are under no obligation to subsidize student religious organizations that discriminate,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “In fact, state schools have a duty to ensure that they do not aid the mission of religious organizations. Hastings Law School is on the right legal track, and the federal courts ought to say so.”

A student chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at Hastings has brought a lawsuit demanding an exemption from the law school’s Nondiscrimination Policy. The policy states that all student groups that seek official recognition and direct financial support must not deny membership based on a student’s race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex and sexual orientation.

The CLS affiliate argues that its religious liberty is being violated by the requirement.

Last year, a federal district court disagreed with the Christian student group’s arguments and upheld the school’s right to enforce its nondiscrimination policy. The CLS has asked the 9th Circuit to reverse the lower court’s ruling.

In its 30-page brief in Christian Legal Society Chapter v. Mary Kay Kane, Americans United argues that the university’s anti-discrimination policy applies equally to all student groups and that the CLS has no constitutional right to demand special treatment by the university.

Citing federal court precedent, Americans United’s brief notes that state institutions must not treat religious organizations more favorably than non-religious ones.

The brief, filed Jan. 19, further argues that exempting the Christian student legal group from the anti-discrimination policy would amount to providing preferential treatment to the religious group because “unlike all other campus groups, religious or secular,” the CLS would be able to discriminate and still receive state funds.

The brief was authored by attorneys Archis A. Parasharami, Lauren R. Randell and Evan M. Tager of the Washington, D.C., office of the global law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP, under the supervision of Americans United attorneys Ayesha N. Khan, Richard B. Katskee and Alex J. Luchenitser.

According to AU, the university’s anti-discrimination policy does not violate the religious liberty rights of the Christian student group. The CLS, under the school’s policy, can still advocate its religious beliefs and use campus facilities to meet and spread those beliefs, but without receiving tax dollars.

“The law school’s policy against discriminatory practices does not harm the religious expression rights of the CLS,” said Luchenitser, Americans United’s senior litigation counsel. “The school’s policy treats all student groups the same. If the Christian Legal Society chapter wishes to receive school financing, it must play by the same rules that other state-funded groups do.”

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.

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.