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Do University Rules Discriminate Against Student Faith Groups?

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

Professor Michael McConnell who is representing the Christian Legal Society in its case against Hastings College of the Law, is quoted in the Christian Science Monitor. Warren Richey filed this story:

A group of Christian students is asking the US Supreme Court to strike down as unconstitutional a school anti-discrimination policy that forces them to accept as voting members and potential leaders classmates who do not share their core religious beliefs.

A lawyer for the Christian Legal Society is set to argue on Monday that the school’s policy violates the Christian students’ First Amendment right to freely associate with like-minded individuals who share a common faith.

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“To forbid groups to form on the basis of shared beliefs is to forbid freedom of association at its most fundamental level,” writes Stanford Law Professor Michael McConnell in his brief on behalf of the CLS.

“The policy targets solely those groups whose beliefs are based on ‘religion’ or that disapprove of a particular kind of sexual behavior,” Mr. McConnell says. “Groups committed to other viewpoints are free to select their leaders from among members who support their purposes and core beliefs.”

McConnell says the non-discrimination policy is “explicitly viewpoint discriminatory.” It only applies to religious beliefs, leaving all other groups with political, social, or cultural ideals or beliefs free to select like-minded members and leaders.

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In his brief, McConnell approaches the free speech and free association issues from the perspective of the Christian students, rather than Hastings administrators.

“Under the First Amendment…, Republican student groups have the right to exclude Democratic leaders, feminist student groups have the right to exclude male chauvinists, and religious groups such as CLS have the right to exclude leaders who reject their core values,” he writes.

McConnell says the school maintains two non-discrimination policies – a written policy banning discrimination on the basis of one’s faith, and a verbal policy banning all discrimination by any group.

He says that the school is selectively enforcing the verbal “all-comers” policy, allowing secular groups to limit membership to like-minded students while accusing like-minded Christian students of discrimination.

“Public colleges are not constitutionally obligated to open their facilities for speech. But all of them do so,” McConnell writes. “And having done so, they must comply with the First Amendment.”