Monday, June 28, 2010

IPN Hails U.S. Supreme Court Decision

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez Ruling Can Help Colleges and Universities Stop Intolerance

Des Moines, IA – June 28 – Iowa Pride Network is hailing the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.  The ruling articulates that public colleges and universities do not have to support student groups that violate their non-discrimination policies.

The Christian Legal Society (CLS) had sued the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law for funding and recognition after they were denied.  The university has a non-discrimination policy stating that no recognized campus groups may exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation—which the CLS was effectively doing.  The CLS requires that voting members sign a statement of faith and specifically targets gays, lesbians and their allies from joining as they are “participating in or advocating for an unrepentant sexually immoral lifestyle.”

The debate had centered on whether or not denying CLS violated the group’s First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise.  The Supreme Court found that the group’s rights were not violated.

"In requiring CLS – in common with all other student organizations – to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the majority opinion.

“The CLS has numerous chapters nationwide and has bullied many public colleges and universities into going against their own non-discrimination policies in order to avoid lawsuits,” stated Ryan Roemerman, Executive Director of Iowa Pride Network, a non-profit organization that networks and provides resources to high school and college Gay-Straight Alliances.

In November, 2008 Iowa Pride Network expressed its concern that the University of Iowa violated its own policy on Human Rights with the approval of funding to CLS.

“Originally, members of the UI Student Government committee that allocates fees for student groups denied CLS funding based on its mission that violated the University of Iowa’s Human Rights Policy. Unfortunately, when threatened with a lawsuit, the Administration was bullied into reversing the decision” said Roemerman.

The CLS and its legal counsel have threatened lawsuits in Iowa before. In the fall of 2007, this same type of controversy erupted on Iowa State University’s campus after conservative Christian groups tried to persuade Iowa State’s administration into allowing varying degrees of discrimination into ISU’s student organization policies. At that time, the ISU Student Government passed a resolution, “opposing the accommodation of any violation to the University’s non-discrimination policy.”

“We hope that today’s ruling gives colleges and universities the courage to stand up to groups like CLS and makes clear that equitable and inclusive non-discrimination policies are crucial in creating safe and healthy campuses for our students” stated Roemerman.

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