U.S. Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez

April 2010 – Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments on Monday 19 April 2010 in the controversial case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. The case asks whether the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, located in San Francisco, may deny recognition to a Christian student group that requires voting members to sign a statement of faith, which includes prohibition of “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” The Court appears to be sharply divided on the matter, and its ruling, expected this summer, could be a significant one in First Amendment jurisprudence. Addressing the tension between freedom of expressive association/freedom of speech and policies of nondiscrimination, the Court’s handling of the case could touch upon deeper issues, “including whether religious groups … have the right to discriminate in the selection of their voting members and officers.” As noted by Brett G. Scharffs, Francis R. Kirkham Professor of Law and Associate Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University, the “principles articulated in this context could have significant implications on so-called charitable choice programs, where religiously affiliated groups that provide social services are able to receive federal funding and are also allowed … to discriminate on the basis of religious preference in their hiring of personnel. It could even have implications for entities that receive tax exemptions and discriminate in the selection of their employees or leaders (something every church and most religious groups do).” (See full article by Professor Scharffs, published in Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases.)