SAN DIEGO — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys will ask the U.S. Supreme Court 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 the purveyors of political correctness pick and choose who will be allowed to exercise their First Amendment protected rights,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “SDSU only requires religious clubs to operate with members and leaders who disagree with the clubs’ views and purpose. 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 lawsuit presents the precise question the Supreme Court said it was not addressing 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 attorneys appealed the current lawsuit, Alpha Delta Chi v. Reed, in 2009. ADF filed the case in 2005 because the university’s nondiscrimination policies force Christian student groups to abandon their Christian beliefs and identities as a condition to gain access to the benefits that all student groups need to function and that other student organizations enjoy. Those benefits include the ability to meet on campus, access to the primary channels for communicating their message and recruiting members, and much more.
Alpha Delta Chi, a sorority at SDSU, requires its voting members and officers to profess their faith in Jesus Christ and adhere to a biblical code of conduct to maintain their Christian identities and expressions. Alpha Gamma Omega, a fraternity that is also a party in the lawsuit, requires the same of its officers. University officials denied the groups recognition, and the many benefits that flow from recognition, based on their religious beliefs as expressed in their membership and leadership policies.
“The 9thCircuit’s ruling poses a serious threat to religious liberty well beyond the university campus,” explained ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “It is an end-run around decades of law establishing the right of religious groups to equally access government-created forums for free speech. If this right can be trumped by mandating compliance with a ‘nondiscrimination’ policy that requires groups to give up the ability to protect their identities, then religious liberty’s days are numbered. The court’s rationale could be extended to exclude religious organizations from all government-created forums, benefits, and statuses, including tax exemptions. We hope the Supreme Court will take this case and reverse this dangerous precedent.”
- Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (tuh-DESS’-ko)
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.