Top Five: Supreme Court Will Hear Christian Legal Society Case
In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter at the University of California's Hastings College of Law must allow students who disagree with the group's statement of faith to take leadership positions.
That ruling seems somewhat at odds with a 2006 ruling by a panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the court told Southern Illinois University it could not revoke official status for a CLS chapter.
On Monday, the Supreme Court said it would hear the Hastings Law case (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez). After the 9th Circuit decision, Timothy J. Tracey told Christianity Today that the Supreme Court's 2000 decision Boy Scouts v. Dale should shape the outcome. "It was about whether or not the Scouts had to accept an openly homosexual guy as a Scout leader," Tracey said. "There were two important aspects of the Supreme Court's decision that relate to the CLS case. One was that a core value of the Scouts was that engaging in homosexual activity was immoral. The second is that you'd have to put this guy in a position of leadership—he'd be leading, teaching, instructing, and that would affect the impression of the group."
But Boy Scouts v. Dale won't be CLS's only argument. The group notes that Hastings grants exceptions to its open membership rule and has singled out CLS. "In the Hastings Democratic Caucus, you have to support the mission of the Democratic Party," Tracey said. "In Silenced Right, a pro-life group on campus, they say, 'We want you to agree with our pro-life beliefs and principles.'" If the school grants exceptions to some groups but not to CLS, it is engaging in viewpoint discrimination, he said. (A key Supreme Court ruling for this argument is 1995's Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, in which the school was told it erred when it denied funding to a religious publication.)
Lawyers for the school may argue that denying membership based on sexuality is fundamentally different from denying membership based on political ideology.
"The real question is whether a law school is obliged to subsidize a group with student fees that is committed to discriminating against some students," Ethan P. Schulman, a lawyer for the law school, told the Los Angeles Times. "If their position is accepted by the court, it could force universities across the country to subsidize discriminatory organizations, including possibly hate groups or extremist groups."
Still, it's hard to see how the Supreme Court could agree without overturning Boy Scouts v. Dale.
Supreme Court nerds, by the way, are noting that five months ago, the Supreme Court decided not to review Truth v. Kent School District, the 9th Circuit decision that was the backbone of its Christian Legal Society decision. Why deny certiorari to Truth and grant it to CLS? One guess: The court would rather deal with the rights of law school students than of high schoolers ("The Supreme Court has said universities have a special role in the marketplace of ideas," Tracey noted in the CT interview.) Another guess: Someone on the court really wanted to deal with this issue, missed the chance with Truth, and has been working hard at this second chance. That might explain why it took an almost historic amount of time for the justices to decide whether to hear the case at all.
While Christians debate whether to speak out about Uganda's virulent anti-homosexuality bill, Uganda's New Vision newspaper reports that homosexuality isn't the only thing Ugandan Christians are violently opposing.