WASHINGTON — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a petition Wednesday with the U.S. Supreme Court that asks it to weigh in on a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit against Christian student organizations at San Diego State University. The lawsuit involves a university policy that allows all non-religious student groups to require that their leaders and voting members agree with the groups’ beliefs but denies that same right to religious student groups.
“The university should be a marketplace of ideas, not a place where political correctness is placed ahead of the constitutionally protected rights of all students, including students of faith,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The university is not telling the Democratic club it must be led by a Republican, or the vegetarian club that it must be led by a meat-eater, but it is telling Christian groups that they must allow themselves to be led by atheists. The First Amendment protects the right of all student groups to employ belief-based criteria in selecting their members and leaders.”
The lawsuit, Alpha Delta Chi v. Reed, presents the precise question the Supreme Court left open when it decided a separate lawsuit last year, Christian Legal Society v. Wu (Martinez). In that decision, the court concluded that public universities may override a religious student group’s right to determine its leadership only if it denies that right to all student groups. SDSU’s policy only denies that right to religious student groups, which is unlawful discrimination based upon a group’s viewpoint.
ADF filed the case in 2005 because SDSU denied recognition and its significant benefits to Alpha Delta Chi, a Christian sorority, and Alpha Gamma Omega, a Christian fraternity. The university did so based on the groups’ requirements that their members and officers share the religious views of the groups themselves; however, the university grants recognition to nonreligious groups even if they require members and leaders to adhere to the views of those groups.
“The 9thCircuit’s ruling against these Christian student groups poses a serious threat to religious liberty well beyond the university campus,” Cortman explained. “It is an end-run around decades of law establishing the right of all religious groups to equally access government-created forums for free speech. It also allows religious groups to be punished for ‘discrimination’ simply because they maintain a consistent identity and message by selecting members and leaders who share their religious beliefs--a practice that is common among all religious groups and a natural part of the free exercise of religion. The 9th Circuit’s decision provides a road map for marginalizing religious groups on university campuses and in society at large.”
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.