MISSOULA, Mont.— Attorneys with the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom and the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit Thursday in a case filed against the University of Montana School of Law by the Christian Legal Society and its student chapter at the school.
The law school requires all students to pay fees to support student groups but then allows distribution of those fees to be skewed toward groups with viewpoints favored by the Student Bar Association. The law school also derecognized the CLS chapter because it requires its officers and voting members to share its religious views, including views concerning extramarital sexual conduct. CLS and ADF filed suit in December 2007. ADF-allied attorney Matthew Monforton of Bozeman is serving as local counsel in the case.
“Christian student groups shouldn’t be discriminated against for their beliefs. All student groups have the right to associate with people of like mind and interest,” said CLS Litigation Counsel Casey Mattox. “For example, the Environmental Law Group at UM seeks to promote certain views of global warming. Should it be forced to accept members and officers who hold to views that undermine the group’s purpose? Similarly, religious groups should be allowed to select officers and voting members from those who share their views to ensure that their message and whole reason for being is not lost.”
“Furthermore, all students at UM have a right to have their student fees distributed in a viewpoint-neutral manner,” Mattox explained. “Established court precedent is clear: a school can charge students mandatory fees for the benefit of student groups, but it cannot distribute those fees to the groups in a lopsided fashion, favoring certain groups over other ones because of what those groups believe.”
While the court acknowledged that UM’s system may be discriminatory, it refused to allow CLS to contest it.
The CLS chapter invites all students to attend and participate in its activities; however, voting members and officers must affirm the group’s Statement of Faith, which includes the belief that Christians should not engage in sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. UM’s dean conceded that CLS does not discriminate on the basis of “sexual orientation,” contradicting the Student Bar Association’s stated rationale for derecognizing the group.
According to the district judge who ruled in favor of the law school in the case, Christian Legal Society v. Eck, the fact that CLS equally applies its policies concerning extramarital sexual conduct to everyone, regardless of sexual preference, is “irrelevant.”
“The effect of this decision is to permit discrimination against Christians on campus by giving a special right to students who favor homosexual behavior to control and speak for religious groups whose views they oppose,” Mattox explained. “That doesn’t sound like true ‘non-discrimination’ to us.”
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. The CLS Center for Law & Religious Freedom is the advocacy division of the Christian Legal Society, a nationwide association of Christian attorneys, law students, law professors, and judges.