Back in September, my husband, a law professor, asked if I’d host one of the student groups for which he serves as a faculty advisor for a gathering at our home. I spent a delightful afternoon helping the group put on a barbeque to launch the semester while listening to them banter about myriad issues, as law students tend to do.
Begging the question, are lawyers taught to argue among themselves, or are they born that way? Hard to say.
One thing these aspiring lawyers didn’t debate were the basic principles that brought them together as a student group; namely, the tenets of their Christian faith. This was a gathering of a chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), a national organization of lawyers, judges, legal scholars and law students whose stated purpose is “seeking justice with the love of God.”
Seeking justice now brings CLS to the highest court in the land. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a crucial case brought by CLS against the University of California's Hastings College of the Law to decide whether Hastings’ anti-discrimination policy requires CLS to allow avowed non-Christians and gays into its ranks as voting members and potential leaders. A decision earlier this year by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the law school, which refuses to acknowledge CLS as an official student organization because its bylaws require voting members to affirm its Statement of Faith. The statement says that anyone who “advocates or unrepentantly engages in sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman” is barred from membership.
Without recognition by the university, CLS can’t get funding and may be barred from using school facilities. It’s noteworthy – though apparently not Constitutionally relevant – that the funding in question isn’t provided by California taxpayers but by the students themselves in the form of mandatory student activity fees. This means all students already are required to share in the cost of organizations to which they may or may not belong and whose missions they may or may not support.
By hearing the case, the Supreme Court will provide consistency in lower court rulings on this issue. The 7th Circuit decided this same issue in favor of students’ right to freedom of speech and assembly, which in its view trump a school’s policy on discrimination.