For Immediate Release
(Washington, DC, March 17, 2010) The Appignani Humanist Legal Center, legal arm of the American Humanist Association, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court Monday, arguing that the Court should affirm a decision made by a federal appeals court that the University of California Hastings College of the Law acted appropriately when the they denied recognition to a Christian-only student group. (The brief can be found at the following URL: http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/CLS_v_Martinez_08-1371_AHA_amicus_brief.pdf )
The lawsuit was launched in 2004 by a chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), a group that was barred from receiving school funds, priority access to facilities and use of Hastings’ logo because they did not permit non-orthodox Christians and gays to become voting members or leaders. Hastings had denied a request from the group that they be exempt from the school’s nondiscrimination policy, which prohibited student groups from discriminating on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation” as a condition for receiving access to school resources. The District Court ruled that Hastings’ policy was permissible and did not constitute a violation of the groups’ free speech rights, contrary to CLS’s argument. The 9th Circuit Court affirmed the policy was permissible because it was viewpoint neutral and reasonable.
“A University has every right to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation among student groups that receive school resources,” said Bob Ritter, AHLC attorney and counsel of record for the brief. “Public schools have an interest in making sure all students feel welcome, whether they are religious, non-religious, straight or gay. And ensuring that their resources don’t go to groups that violate policies of nondiscrimination is an appropriate measure to keep universities inclusive.”
“To be clear, this case is not about the school limiting student groups’ free speech rights,” Ritter added. “Groups that wish to discriminate in their membership are free to do so as privately operated entities, but they are not entitled to school sanction of their discriminatory policies.”
The AHLC’s brief argues that Hastings and other publicly-run institutions or entities can establish a conditional limited public forum for free speech, as long as the conditions for using the forum are neutral and generally applied. “A university can require student groups to abide by certain policies as long as those policies are applied universally, without bias or favor,” Ritter clarified.
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed the friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the American Humanist Association, The American Ethical Union, Atheist Alliance International, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Institute for Humanist Studies, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and Secular Student Alliance.
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org ) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.
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The Appignani Humanist Legal Center is made possible through the support of The Louis J. Appignani Foundation, The Herb Block Foundation, and an anonymous private foundation. To donate to the Legal Center and other projects of the American Humanist Association please click here.