Bigotry, hatred, and fear often hide under the guise of those who use the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause as pure license to continue their discriminatory actions.
However, if the recent decision of California's 9th Circuit Court is upheld by the United States Supreme Court, that circumstance will no longer be tolerated for students attending public universities.
In a landmark case, the United States Supreme Court will determine whether the Christian Legal Society (CLS), a group of law students seeking recognition as a student organization at UC Hastings College of Law, is to be recognized as a club even though its rules and beliefs violate the law school’s anti-discrimination policy.
Hastings, in accordance with California law, prohibits student organizations from discriminating on the basis of religion and/or sexual-orientation.
It is this prohibition that unveiled the discriminatory actions by CLS.
Not only does CLS require its members to agree with its religious beliefs, but also it requires its members to take a pledge to live their lives in accordance with those very same religious beliefs. It is this circumstance which triggered the public law school’s denial of CLS as a recognized student organization.
Upon this denial, CLS filed suit; claiming a violation of its First Amendment’s freedom of association and free exercise of religion. In essence, CLS is claiming that it should be recognized formally by creating an exception to the law school’s anti-discrimination policies, because of its guarantees under the First Amendment.
In other words, and to be blunt, CLS claims that the law school should put aside its public mandate requiring it to never discriminate against homosexuals and people of different religious beliefs, because a group of law students, do in fact, wish to discriminate against homosexuals and people of other religious beliefs.
CLS literally is asking the law school to formally recognize a student organization that openly discriminates and is thus in direct conflict with its own policies.
CLS demonstrated this fact through arguments made in front of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. CLS argued that by allowing "unrepentant" homosexuals into its organization, it would cause only detriment and burden, a circumstance unwanted due to its religious beliefs.
Although the First Amendment protects everyone by guaranteeing our individual beliefs and actions in accordance with those beliefs, I do not agree that the First Amendment harbors protection for an individual or group of individuals who cause one’s beliefs to be set aside for that controverting person’s beliefs.
The 9th Circuit also found this to be the case when it correctly held that a public institution should not be required to formally accept an organization which causes it to violate its own mission, values and policies, only for the sake of that other organization.
Don’t misunderstand the 9th Circuit's decision - CLS is able to exist. That is, people are able to participate with other people within CLS.
What the 9th Circuit was adamant about, however, is that the law school does not have to officially sanction this organization when it violates its anti-discriminatory policies. The law school should not be required to harbor injustice and discrimination by being forced to use its own resources.
The First Amendment has never stood for the proposition that one person’s beliefs are any more important than another’s. The opposite has always been found.
Thus, I hope the United States Supreme Court sees the light and upholds what the 9th Circuit so brilliantly found; however, like most 9th Circuit decisions, they are rarely upheld.
Only time will tell; even though a choice against discrimination seems obvious.
Thomas Hughes, Esq. was born and raised in San Diego, and got his Law Degree at Whitter Law School in Orange County, Ca. After three years prosecuting as a Riverside County deptuty District Attorney, Hughes returned to San Diego to start his own criminal defense firm. He has law offices in San Diego and Temecula, and also works as a technical advisor to CSI Los Angeles.