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Christian Legal Society v. Martinez: Religious Student Groups, Nondiscrimination Rules, and the Constitution

By Gregory S. Baylor
March 31, 2010
In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the United States Supreme Court will decide whether the Constitution permits a public university law school to exclude a religious student organization from a forum for speech solely because the group requires its officers and voting members to share its core religious commitments. The student chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at Hastings College of the Law draws its officers and voting members from among those who voluntarily sign its Statement of Faith and who strive to abide by CLS’s religiously-rooted moral conduct standards. The CLS chapter welcomes all students to attend its meetings and events. Hastings concluded at the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year that CLS’s voting membership and officership requirements violated the religion and sexual orientation provisions of its Policy on Nondiscrimination. It accordingly refused to confer Registered Student Organization (RSO) status upon CLS. Contradicting the Seventh Circuit’s decision in a virtually identical case, the Ninth Circuit rejected CLS’s claims that Hastings violated its constitutionally protected rights of free speech, expressive association, free exercise of religion, and equal protection of the laws. The Supreme Court presumably granted review to resolve the conflict between the Seventh and Ninth Circuits in both their analytical approaches and their outcomes...