In 2004, the Christian Legal Society chapter at the Hastings College of Law, University of California, applied to have their students' organization registered. Under the University's rules, all registered students' organizations enjoy federal funding and other privileges. However, the organization's bylaws and constitution—commonly known as the Statement of Faith—had rules prohibiting non-celibate gays, non-celibate lesbians, and non-Christians from assuming leadership positions and voting (Lawson, 2011). These rules were in contravention of the university's policy of non-discrimination, which prohibits the university and all registered groups within the institution from discriminating on the basis of color, sexual orientation, ancestry, sex, disability, marital status, age, and, religion. Consequently, the institution rejected the society's application and the CLS instituted legal proceedings against the institution, on the grounds that rejection violated the society's right to assembly, free exercise of religion, and free speech guaranteed under the First Amendment (Steve, 2010).
The main issues for consideration in the case were:
• Whether, a public institution, can reject the registration of religious organization on the ground that its rules are discriminative.
• Whether the rules of the CLS' society were in contravention of the university's policies on discrimination?
• Whether the University's rejection of CLS application amounted to a violation of the right to assembly?
• Whether the university's rejection of CLS application, amounted to a violation of the freedom of religion?
• Whether the university's rejection of CLS application amounted to a violation of the right to free speech?
• Whether the University's rules requiring registration of students organizations amounted to a violation of the First Amendment?
• Whether the university's rules, met the rule requiring neutrality when a public institution is denying groups access to public funds?
A total of 9 Supreme Court justices heard the case. The judges included Chief Justice John Roberts and associate justices John Stevens, Sonia Sotomayor, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, and Stephen Breyer. The majority decision was written by Justice Ruth Ginsburg, and she was joined in her decision by Justices Breyer Stephen, Sonia Sotomayor, Anthony Kennedy, and John Stevens. The court upheld the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court held that all organizations are bound by their constitutional stipulations, and therefore; CLS could not run away from the rules prohibiting non-Christians and homosexuals from voting and assuming leadership positions. Members of CLS were bound by these rules and they contravened Hastings' policy on non-discrimination (Lawson, 2011). CLS should, therefore, not have run away from the issue of discrimination when seeking the court's redress. The court also held that the Hastings College of Law's policy requiring all students' organizations, irrespective of their status or religious beliefs, to register in order to enjoy a wide array of privileges including federal funding was reasonable and viewpoint neutral, and therefore; it was not in contravention of the First Amendment limitations. The reason why the court made the first decision was because CLS had significantly changed its arguments, from the arguments it made during the first suit in the District Court. By arguing that Hastings' rule requiring all students' organizations to be registered violated the First Amendment, CLS was effectively changing its argument from denial of registration, to the right to exist without registration. However, the court saw the change and decided to include the matter in its decision. In arriving at its decision, the court cited the case of Board of Regents University of Wisconsin v. Southworth 529 U.S. 217 (1995). In that case, it was held that once things had been written in an organization's constitution or rules, all members were bound to follow it. The rationale behind the second holding was that the law requires that when a public institution is denying a member of the public any right guaranteed under the constitution, it must be within certain requisite limits. Among these limits is the rule that all exclusions must be neutral and general. This rule was meant to prevent cases of discrimination from public institutions. Because the rule preventing CLS from being registered at Hastings was general, and it was not targeted at a particular group or individual, the court ruled that it met the requirement of neutrality and reasonable viewpoint. This rule is also widely recognized as one of the exceptions to the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. The court, therefore, ruled that the rule was not in violation of the First Amendment.
E. CONCURRING DECISION:
The concurring opinion was given by Chief Justice John Stevens. Stevens was of the view that the rule barring homosexuals and non-Christians from assuming a leadership position and voting rights could be likened to a rule excluding, blacks, Jews, and other persons who do not condemn blacks and Jews from becoming members of organizations (Richard, 2011). The court would also be sanctioning discriminative practices in public and private institutions, by sanctioning such a rule. Discrimination is something the nation has fought tooth and nail to discard and it would be wrong for the Supreme Court to introduce it through the back door.
The court Hastings affirmed the rule established under Board of Regents University of Wisconsin v. Southworth 529 U.S. 219 (1983) that all members of an organization are bound by its rules. The court also established a new rule giving public institutions a right to reject registration applications as long as the reasons meet the neutrality and reasonable viewpoint standards.
G. DISSENTING OPINION:
The main thrust of the dissenting opinion was on Justice Ruth Ginsburg's view that the University's "all-comers" rule is content neutral and viewpoint reasonable. According to Justice Alito, the rule barring the registration of students' organizations on the ground that their rules are discriminatory is in clear violation of the right to assembly, free speech, and religion guaranteed under the First Amendment. By denying the plaintiffs this right, the university had in turn violated this rule, and it could not hide behind the all-comers policy. The justice argued that the court's decision was contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment, which gives Americans the right to debate all contentious issues in a free and open manner.
The significance of this case is that it establishes a rule in which universities can, through the all comers policy, condition their rules in such a way that they will deny new student the right to registration and access to public funds if such student organizations cannot allow all students within the institution the right to become members of the organization. In order for the college client to benefit from this rule, the rule barring registration of students' organizations must be content neutral and its viewpoint has to be reasonable.
Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, 08 137 (Supreme Court 2010).
Lawson, R. (2011). Exclusion clauses and unfair contract terms. London: Oxford University Press.
Richard, S. (2011). The modern law of contract: Seventh edition. London: Oxford University Press.
Steve, K. (2010). Christian Legal Society v. Martinez Opinion Analysis: All comers policy for student groups withstands First Amendment challengers. Retrieved September 30, 2011, from Constitutional Law Professor: http://www.lawprofessorstypepard.com