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Supreme Court Sharply Divided On Christian Student Group Case

Publication Date: 
April 19, 2010
The Christian Science Monitor
Warren Richey

Professor Michael McConnell is representing the Christian Legal Society in its case challenging the antidiscrimination policy at UC Hastings College of the Law. McConnell is quoted in this story filed by Warren Richy of the Christian Science Monitor:

A sharply divided US Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in a case examining whether a California law school can refuse to officially recognize a Christian student group that requires its members to embrace biblical passages denouncing homosexuality.

Officials at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law in San Francisco said the group’s stance violates the school’s antidiscrimination policy – including bans on discrimination based on religious belief or sexual orientation.


“The policy is, I think, blatantly unconstitutional,” said Michael McConnell, a Stanford law professor, who is representing the CLS. “It is also a frontal assault on freedom of association.”


Earlier in the session, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Mr. McConnell what was wrong with a school seeking to prevent groups from engaging in discrimination.

McConnell said the CLS challenge was not aimed at preventing the school from enforcing its antidiscrimination policy as it relates to an individual’s status such as race, nationality, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. The challenge targets only that part of the policy that limits the ability of a student group to select its members based on shared beliefs.

“What if the belief is that African-Americans are inferior?” Justice John Paul Stevens asked.

McConnell replied that a student group dedicated to such a belief must be permitted to select or reject members based on the shared beliefs of prospective members. But what the group could not do, he said, is exclude prospective members based on status criteria such as their race or national origin.

Such a group with racist beliefs would be barred from excluding blacks, he said. “Our view is that the status half of [the Hastings policy] is perfectly constitutional and the belief half of it is not,” McConnell said.

McConnell told the justices that in his view the CLS did not discriminate against prospective student members based on their sexual orientation. Instead, he said, any exclusion would be based on a clash of beliefs.