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Property and the Public Forum: An Essay on Christian Legal Society v. Martinez

10 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2010  

B. Jessie Hill

Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Date Written: November 10, 2010


Christian Legal Society v. Martinez is situated at the intersection of various, and arguably conflicting, lines of doctrine. In ultimately holding that the Hastings College of Law could decline to recognize the student chapter of the Christian Legal Society due to the group’s refusal to accept members who did not conform their beliefs and conduct to the principles of CLS (particularly regarding homosexuality),the Supreme Court was required to sort through a tangle of precedents involving free speech limitations in nonpublic fora, religious groups’ rights of equal access to school facilities, and freedom of expressive association.

Perhaps less obviously, however, CLS also stands in relation to Pleasant Grove City v. Summum and Salazar v. Buono, two other recent Roberts Court cases. In CLS, as in Summum and Buono, the Supreme Court turned to property - both as a metaphor and as a doctrinal tool - to resolve difficult and multifaceted constitutional questions. Although the relationship between First Amendment rights and property rights is a long-standing one, the Court seems to have turned to property with a renewed enthusiasm in these three recent cases. And although the property framework may appear to hold the promise of simplicity, neutrality, and avoidance of difficult policy questions, this brief essay, prepared for a special online symposium issue of the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Public Policy, argues that it fails to deliver on those promises. Instead, property analysis obscures the complex First Amendment issues behind seemingly easy categorical judgments and grants the government virtually unlimited power to exclude undesired speakers and groups. Notwithstanding the Court’s approach, the crux of the issue is, and has always been, when First Amendment values should overcome the forum owner’s right to exclude. That is a question the Court seems increasingly loath to resolve.

Keywords: Christian Legal Society (CLS) v. Martinez, 130 S. Ct. 2971 (2010), Free Speech in public fora, Freed

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Hill, B. Jessie, Property and the Public Forum: An Essay on Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (November 10, 2010). Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy, 2010 ; Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-37. Available at SSRN:

Beatrice Jessie Hill (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

11075 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106-7148
United States

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