supreme court decides against a college ministry

As you may have heard, the Supreme Court decided against the Christian Legal Society at California’s Hastings College of Law. But the decision actually seems to have been quite narrow, because the rule in question was in fact quite specific.

Hastings has a rule on its books mandating that no campus organization can limit its membership or leadership, even around its statement of beliefs. The Supreme Court yesterday upheld this rule, which keeps the Christian Legal Society from becoming a recognized student organization because of its ban on homosexual members.

As Christianity Today’s excellent summary noted,

The majority opinion, issued by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said that Hastings College of the Law’s “all comers” policy, which required all groups to open all positions to all students, “is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the student-organization forum.” The Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter at the University of California school, Ginsburg wrote, “seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy.”

However, some commentators are pointing out the very important fact that the rule at Hastings is specific to Hastings. And if, in fact, it turns out that Hastings allows some groups to “discriminate” in membership but not others (as CLS has argued), then all this could be moot anyway. The case now travels back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to address that very issue.

Further, perhaps Hastings would even be persuaded to amend its own rule, if various other organizations realize how problematic this ruling could actually be. If any organization must allow any member to take place in any conceivable way, then it seems that all groups could lose their “groupness.”

As for the rest of us, there’s room for both hope and concern. On the one hand,

“It’s unlikely [that other universities will adopt the rule Hastings has], because an all-comers policy by and large defeats the purpose for which state universities allow student organizations to be created and recognized by the educational institution,” [Carl Esbeck, University of Missouri constitutional law professor] told CT. “Namely, that like-minded people can band together in an association or organization and thereby have not only common reinforcement among themselves but also have a greater voice because they’re speaking as a united group.”

But on the other hand, things like this can embolden both schools and students who are already inclined to make things more difficult for Christian campus ministries. So even if rules are created or actions are taken that actually run afoul of the Justices’ narrow decision here, it could take years for everything to get sorted out. That’s the way these things can pan out “on the ground,” as organizations and people are liable to overcorrect. (Of course, that could easily have happened in the other direction if the decision had gone the other way. I’m just noting the concern.)

I encourage you to take a look at the Christianity Today article, as well as Inside Higher Ed’s, which has several additional links. Inside Higher Ed has also promised complete coverage today, so that would be very worth looking at.

In case you’re wondering, the scale up there is at Xavier University!


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  1. Benson,
    Thanks for this important article. It is good to know these facts and to listen to the debate. I do think that it is problematic for other organizations, and am intrigued to see how it all pans out.

  2. Pingback: More on the Supreme Court Ruling from Benson Hines « West Coast Witness

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