SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider a request by Christian groups on a college campus to allow them to limit membership based on religious beliefs.
Justice turned back a legal effort by a Christian fraternity and sorority at San Diego State University that challenged an anti-discrimination policy at California state universities.
The lawsuit filed in 2005 said the plaintiffs should be allowed to insist members follow their religious standards of conduct and avoid sex outside of marriage between a man and woman.
Susan Westover, head of the California State University system’s litigation unit, welcomed the Supreme Court decision. “We don’t want our students to discriminate, just like we don’t want our employees to discriminate,” she said.
The Alliance Defense Fund, based on Scottsdale, Ariz., argued the case for the groups. David Cortman, senior counsel for the fund, said San Diego State will “remain a stronghold of censorship” as a result of the court decision.
The Alpha Gamma Omega-Epsilon Chapter fraternity and the Alpha Delta Chi-Delta Chapter sorority continue to exist but have struggled.
Refusing to go along with the school’s nondiscrimination policy made the groups ineligible for a host of privileges such as getting student funding, posting signs on campus, reserving office and meeting space, using the school name or mascot and promoting themselves on the university website.
With Monday’s decision, the justices let stand a federal appeals court ruling that found San Diego State University’s nondiscrimination policy doesn’t violate the Constitution.
The decision to stay out of the case avoids revisiting questions that resulted in a 2010 decision that said a law school can deny recognition to a Christian student group that wouldn’t let gays join. An ideologically split Supreme Court ruled then that University of California’s Hastings College of the Law could refuse to recognize campus groups that excluded people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.
In that case, the court on a 5-4 judgment upheld the lower court rulings saying a Christian group’s First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise were not violated by the college’s nondiscrimination policy.
Several religious groups recognized by San Diego State also welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday to stay out of the 2010 case.
“I think it’s a great policy. I don’t think there should be any discrimination at all, in any way,” said Curtis Lester, 22, a fifth-year student and president of the Aztec Christian Association.
Lester said school recognition has been critical for his group. Along with being able to use the school mascot in its name, the Aztec Christian Association posted signs on campus for a meeting that drew about 80 people on campus.
Jayson Nicholson, assistant for the Agape House Lutheran Episcopal Campus Ministry at San Diego State, said recognition allowed that group to recruit students at a table during Welcome Week for new students and hold religious services on campus. He enthusiastically backs the school policy.
“I personally feel it is positive not to discriminate in any way, shape or form,” he said.