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Another Nail in the Coffin of Religious Freedom? Christian Legal Society v. Martinez

Education Law Journal, Vol. 12

11 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2011  

Charles J. Russo

University of Dayton

William E. Thro

University of Kentucky

Date Written: July 12, 2011


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.

Keywords: religious freedom, higher education, first amendment, free exercise, free speech, freedom of assocation

Suggested Citation

Russo, Charles J. and Thro, William E., Another Nail in the Coffin of Religious Freedom? Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (July 12, 2011). Education Law Journal, Vol. 12. Available at SSRN:

Charles J. Russo

University of Dayton ( email )

300 College Park
Dayton, OH 45469
United States

William E. Thro (Contact Author)

University of Kentucky ( email )

Lexington, KY 40506
United States
859-257-2936 (Phone)
859-323-1062 (Fax)

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