Universities May Deny Funding To Student Clubs That Discriminate, Groups Tell High Court

For Immediate Release

Universities May Deny Funding To Student Clubs That Discriminate, Groups Tell High Court

WASHINGTON - Public colleges and universities should have the constitutional right
to deny funding and official recognition to student clubs that engage
in religious discrimination, a trio of religious and civil liberties
groups has told the Supreme Court.

The organizations – Americans United for Separation of Church and
State, the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Action Center of
Reform Judaism – filed a  friend-of-the-court
brief
March 15 urging the justices to rule in favor of the
University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in a pending
case.

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez concerns a student
chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at Hastings that sued the
school after it was denied official university recognition. Hastings
officials said the CLS chapter violated school policies by denying
membership and officer positions to non-Christians, gays and others who
run afoul of CLS’s faith statement.

“Public colleges have every right to deny funding and official
recognition to student groups that discriminate,” said the Rev. Barry W.
Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “If students want to form
a club that excludes others, they shouldn’t demand school subsidies or
official status.”

In the brief, the groups assert that non-discrimination is an
important social value that public universities have the right to
promote.

“The University has a legitimate interest in ensuring that the
student activity fees all students must pay support only those groups
that are open to all students,” observes the brief. “Especially in light
of the history of invidious discrimination on college campuses,
UC-Hastings has a strong interest in avoiding the appearance of
facilitating discrimination by its officially recognized and funded
student groups.”

The brief goes on to note that the law school’s anti-discrimination
policy imposes no serious hardship on the CLS chapter at Hastings. CLS
members are still permitted to meet on campus and use school facilities
without official recognition and school funding.

“Because CLS does not need to be an official student group to
communicate its message effectively to the Hastings student body,” the
brief asserts, “the group’s First Amendment interest in discriminating
against non-believers and the University’s interest in ensuring that its
sanctioned extracurricular activities are open to all students are not
incompatible.”

The brief was drafted by a team of attorneys at the New York City
firm of Jones Day, with input from attorneys at the American Jewish
Committee and Americans United.

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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.

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