US Supreme Court: Law School May Require Student Groups to Accept Members Who Do Not Share Group’s Religious Beliefs or Conform to Group’s Code of Conduct

June 2010 – Washington, D.C.
Joseph Hepworth

The United States Supreme Court, in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, ruled that a public law school did not violate the First Amendment by refusing to officially recognize a Christian student group that required its members to affirm a specific religious belief and adhere to a code of conduct that precluded any sexual conduct outside of marriage. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for a five-member majority, wrote that the First Amendment permits public institutions of higher education to require recognized student groups to accept all students who wish to participate in them regardless of belief or conduct. The Majority opinion, analyzing the case under its “limited public forum” line of cases, found that, as a condition of official recognition, requiring groups to accept “all comers,” regardless of belief or conduct, was reasonable and viewpoint neutral.

In a sharply-worded dissent on behalf of himself and three other justices, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., criticized the majority opinion for resting its conclusion on the law school’s “all comers” policy, despite any evidence that the policy existed at the time the law school refused to recognize teh Christian Group, citing its nondiscrimination policy. The dissent argued that the law school’s nondiscrimination policy was not viewpoint neutral because it “permit[ted] political, social and cultural student organizations . . . dedicated to a particular set of ideals or beliefs” with one exception: “groups formed to express a religious message.”

The Court remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for consideration of whether the “all comers” policy was a pretext for antireligious discrimination.