Free Association and the First Amendment

By April 16, 2010

Can a public university force a Christian student group to accept as leaders students who explicitly reject core tenets of the group’s faith? On Monday the Supreme Court will entertain precisely this question-and the First Amendment right to freedom of association hangs in the balance.

The facts in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez are straightforward. The Christian Legal Society (CLS), an evangelical Christian student group, accepts all students at its functions but requires voting members and leaders to sign a Statement of Faith. The statement endorses "biblical principles of sexual morality," and it makes clear that a student who "advocates or unrepentantly engages in sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman" isn’t eligible to vote for or become a group leader.

There’s nothing strange here; one wouldn’t expect the College Democrats to accept as voting members or leaders those students who advocate or vote for Republicans. But the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, in San Francisco, seeks to enforce a politically correct notion of inclusiveness.

In order to gain official recognition, funding and equal access to campus, Hastings insists that every group must allow all students to become voting members, even if they fundamentally disagree with the group’s viewpoint or want to vote to disband the group. Applying this rule, Hastings denied CLS recognition, excluding the group from participating in campus life on equal terms simply because it holds fast to sincerely held religious beliefs.


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Schools: University of California