MISSOULA, Mont. — Attorneys with the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit Friday in federal court challenging the University of Montana School of Law’s decision to derecognize a CLS student chapter because of its Christian beliefs. The decision is at odds with the position taken by the main campus student association, the Associated Students of the University of Montana, which has recognized the CLS chapter.
“The First Amendment shouldn’t be applied differently based on a person’s beliefs,” said M. Casey Mattox, litigation counsel for CLS’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom. “Of all places, a law school should understand that the Constitution forbids penalizing a student group because of its religious views. A student group cannot be forced to compromise its beliefs in order to maintain a presence on campus.”
The Student Bar Association, the law school’s student governing body, originally recognized the chapter. However, after some students and faculty members opposed to CLS recognition complained, the SBA derecognized the CLS chapter and excluded it from receiving student activities funds available to other law school student organizations.
The School of Law has refused to respond to requests by the chapter to explain the basis for its exclusion, but students and faculty had vocally opposed CLS recognition, claiming that the chapter’s view that its voting members and leaders should not engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage was “discrimination.” The law school’s dean, E. Edwin Eck, upheld this decision.
Although CLS requires its voting members and officers to agree with its Statement of Faith, it invites and welcomes all students to attend and participate in its meetings and events.
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.