Another Nail in the Coffin of Religious Freedom? Christian Legal Society v. Martinez
Charles J. Russo
University of Dayton
William E. Thro
University of Kentucky
July 12, 2011
Education Law Journal, Vol. 12
Amid on-going battles over the place of religious groups and even religion itself in the marketplace of ideas known as American public education, the United States Supreme Court added fuel to the fire in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. In Christian Legal Society, the Court affirmed an order of the Ninth Circuit, agreeing that officials at a public law school in California had the authority to implement a policy effectively marginalizing religious freedom by requiring an on-campus religious group to admit all-comers from the student body, including those who disagree with its beliefs, as a condition of becoming a recognized student organization.
On remand for consideration of whether law school officials applied the all-comers policy selectively to the Christian Legal Society (CLS), the Ninth Circuit joined the Supreme Court in placing another nail in the coffin of religious freedom. In so doing, the Ninth Circuit rejected the claim of the CLS on the ground that organizational leaders failed to preserve their argument that law school officials selectively applied the policy for appeal, making it apparently the only public institution of higher learning in the United States with such a policy in place.
Whether Christian Legal Society is a victory for those who think that students should not be subject to discrimination due to their religious beliefs or a setback for religious freedom depends, of course, on one’s point of view. Regardless of how one interprets Christian Legal Society, it has the potential to change the landscape of religious freedom in the United States dramatically insofar as officials can potentially block faith-based groups from public facilities. In light of the ramifications for religious freedom that Christian Legal Society raises for the United States and the United Kingdom, the remainder of this article is divided into two major parts. The first section reviews the facts, judicial history, and the opinions in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Christian Legal Society. The second part reflects on what Christian Legal Society means for religious freedom in educational settings. The article rounds out with a brief conclusion.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 11
Keywords: religious freedom, higher education, first amendment, free exercise, free speech, freedom of assocation
Date posted: July 17, 2011