The Christian Legal Society is a non-profit organization of people in the legal profession — including lawyers and judges, as well as law professors and students — who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus while practicing or studying law. And right now they’re at the center of a lawsuit in the Supreme Court.
In addition to the group’s 90 chapters of attorneys, there are 165 chapters in law schools. One of those academic chapters, at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, sought official recognition from the school as a campus organization, with the school financing and benefits that comes with such status. The university refused CLS’s request, citing rules that school-sanctioned organizations cannot exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.
For a Christian organization, that can potentially be a difficult rule to follow. CLS understandably wants its members to follow traditional Christian teachings, which include studying the Bible, believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and (to many Christian groups) condemning homosexuality as an abomination. In fact, members must sign a statement of faith, and the organization condemns “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.”
CLS sued the school, claiming that its First Amendment rights had been violated by the university’s stance that the group could not follow its religious principles or dictate who would be allowed to join. The federal judge in the original trial threw the case out, and a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision upheld the original ruling… Which leads up to last week’s trial in the Supreme Court.
The bottom line in the case is this: CLS wants official recognition and school support, but the university has an “all comers” policy and will not sanction an organization that doesn’t allow all registered students to participate.
The original article on HuffingtonPost.com has some fascinating dialogue between Justices Scalia, Sotomayor, Stevens, Roberts, and Alito with the attorneys on both sides of the debate – check it out if you’re curious, but in the interests of space I’m not quoting it here. Or if you’re REALLY intrigued, you can read the full transcript of the Supreme Court trial from last week. (I did, and found it fascinating.)
I have a somewhat mixed opinion… I think it’s perfectly fair that a faith-based organization should be able to exclude potential members who do not follow the religious beliefs that the group was formed to promote. But I absolutely do not think that university funds, including taxpayer dollars and student tuition, should be used to support a group that isn’t open to every student who attends the university.
You can be as exclusive as you want, and if you think that a non-Christian person shouldn’t join your Christian group, you have every right to that policy… Just not with my money. If you want my tuition and tax dollars to be used supporting you as an official school-sanctioned organization, then as a student of the school I should have every right to participate.
And if you don’t want me in your group, then get your funding privately and tell me to go to Hell.