The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 yesterday that a law school does not have to recognise a religious student group which bars gay students.
The case could have repercussions for other US campus religious groups.
The University of California’s Hastings College of Law withdrew its recognition of the Christian Legal Society chapter unless it changed its discriminatory rules.
Five years ago, the group decided to bar those who adhere to a “sexually immoral lifestyle” which they said included gays and lesbians. It also bars those who are not Christians.
The school’s decision to withdraw recognition meant the group was not entitled to use reserved meeting rooms and members could not claim travel costs to attend national meetings.
Hastings College argued the group had failed to comply with its anti-discrimination directives, while the Christian group contented its First Amendment rights had been violated.
Lower courts found in favour of the college and yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled the group’s rights had not been violated.
In an opinion for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote: “We hold that a law school may maintain an open-access policy.
She continued that the policy applied to all students and all student groups.
“To meet First Amendment measurement, the school need not provide a religion-based exception,” she wrote.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for himself and the three other judges who voted in the minority, said the judgement marked a dark day for religious freedom.
“I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today’s decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country,” he wrote.
“There are religious groups that cannot in good conscience agree in their bylaws that they will admit persons who do not share their faith. For these groups, the consequence of an accept-all-comers policy is marginalisation.”
The ruling does not mean that the student group must change its membership policies or beliefs.