Christian Legal Society Chapter v. Martinez - Freedom of Association

      On June 28, 2010 the Supreme Court decided the case of Christian Legal Society Chapter v. Martinez.  Students who are registered for Professor Huhn's courses may participate in discussions about this and other topics through their account at Springboard at the University of Akron.
    The facts of the case are fairly straighforward.  The University of California Hastings College of Law, like many colleges and universities, recognizes student organizations for the purpose of providing certain benefits, including use of the institution's name and logo, e-mail lists of students, preferred access to college facilities, and limited funding for activities.  And like many if not most colleges and universities, Hastings Law School requires that to be eligible for these benefits a student organization may not discriminate, either in its membership policies or as a qualification for office, on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex, or sexual orientation.  The Law School interpreted this policy to mean that, to be officially registered, a student organization must accept "all comers" as members.

     The Christian Legal Society operated for several years at Hastings under a constitution that permitted any student to become a member or an officer of the organization.  In 2004 the organization changed its bylaws so that only persons who were willing to take a particular religious oath and to abide by its teachings in their behavior were permitted to become members or officers.  The oath would effectively ban any person who holds different religious views from becoming a member, and the regulation requiring adherence to its requirements would similarly ban any sexually active gay or lesbian person.

     As a consequence the law school refused to continue to recognize CLS as an official student organization, thus denying the organization the benefits of official recognition, enhanced access to students and the facility, and funding.  The CLS sued the law school claiming that the law school had violated its constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
     The Court found that the access  and funding provided by Hastings to registered student organizations constituted a "limited public forum," and observed that any rules limiting access to a limited public forum must be "reasonable" and "viewpoint neutral." 
     The Court distinguished this case from Freedom of Association cases like Dale v. Boy Scouts of America (2000) or Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston (1995) on the ground the organizations in those cases were being sued civil rights laws that guarantee equal access to places of public accommodation; they were facing punishment for having excluded gays and lesbians from their organizations or activities.  In this case, in contrast, the Christian Legal Society did not face a punishment for excluding gays and lesbians; they merely could not qualify for the benefits of being a registered student organization.  The Court found that this case was similar to cases such as Bob Jones University v. United States (1983) in which tax-exempt status had been denied to schools that discriminate on the basis of race.
     Here are some sources of information and views about the case that appeared before the case was decided by the Supreme Court:
  • The decision of the trial court in favor of Hastings Law School
  • Christian Legal Society's summary of the case
  • David French's argument at National Review online on behalf of CLS
  • Eugene Volokh's online response to French
  • An informative and thoughtful law review article on the subject:  Patricia A. Brady and Thomas L. Stoffard, Some Funny Things Happened When We Got to the Forum: Student Fees and Student Organizations After Southworth, 35 Journal of College and University Law 99 (2008)