Judge says no free speech denied; bans discriminatory religious group from college campuses

A federal judge ruled that a California State University policy regulated conduct, not speech in denying a religious group access to two campuses for requiring students to be Christians and to reject homosexuality. Every Nation Campus Ministries filed suit in 2005 claiming among other things that the policy violated its free speech rights. -DB

San Diego Union-Tribune
Feb. 7, 2009
By Greg Moran

FEDERAL COURT — A federal judge ruled yesterday that a nondiscrimination policy at San Diego State and Long Beach State universities required for formal campus recognition does not infringe on the rights of religious groups that demand fidelity to Christian ideals and bar openly gay students.

The ruling by District Judge Larry A. Burns decides the lawsuit filed by Every Nation Campus Ministries in 2005. The group had alleged that complying with the policy violated its rights to free speech, free association and religious liberty.

It sought an injunction that would force the campus to recognize the group, and a finding that failing to abide by the policy was unconstitutional.

But Burns, relying on previous case law, said the policy was intended to regulate conduct, not speech or association.

He also said any restrictions in the policy were reasonable and “viewpoint neutral” and therefore not unconstitutional.

Recognized groups – there are more than 100 on each campus – receive financial benefits, access to meeting rooms and other areas of campus, and subsidized rentals of meeting facilities, Burns said.

A lawyer for the group was disappointed with the decision and said it would likely be appealed. Also involved in the suit were a sorority and fraternity that had Christian-only membership requirements.

Jeremy Tedesco of the Alliance Defense Fund said the school policy “doesn’t respect a Christian group’s ability to make membership decisions” and control its own club.

He said that under the policy, a Republican political group could restrict its membership to Republicans, but a religious group – be it Christian or Muslim – could not.

Susan Westover, the lawyer for the university, said she was pleased with the ruling.

“This ruling keeps the doors open for all student organizations which, in order to gain official recognition, must be inclusive, not discriminatory,” she said in an e-mail yesterday.

In order to get recognition, groups must abide by the nondiscrimination policy that says membership cannot be withheld based on race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability and the like.

Before 2005, Every Nation was a recognized group and abided by the policy, Burns wrote. But in 2005, the group submitted a new constitution that required members to be Christians and reject homosexuality.