Christian groups at San Diego State lose appeal over policy forcing them to admit atheists if they want official recognition
The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court that found constitutionally acceptable a policy at San Diego State University denying recognition to a Christian sorority and fraternity that required their members to share their faith.
In a one-sentence order issued March 19, the high court upheld a decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that SDSU’s policy was not unconstitutionally discriminatory.
According to the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented the sorority (Alpha Delta Chi) and the fraternity (Alpha Gamma Omega), “San Diego State prohibited campus Christian organizations from requiring their members and leaders to agree with the organization’s statement of faith, but allowed other student organizations to require members and leaders to agree with the viewpoints the groups advocate.”
As a consequence of the SDSU policy (similar to one in effect at all campuses of the California State University system), Alpha Delta Chi and Alpha Gamma Omega cannot receive funding as do other student groups, cannot use university communications or the SDSU logo, and have been denied access to university facilities.
SDSU officials said the Christians-only policy of the sorority and fraternity violated a university directive prohibiting discrimination in their membership based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
The two groups challenged the university’s policy in court as a violation of their First Amendment rights, but lost in the Ninth Circuit. That ruling is now final after the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the students’ appeal last week.
“Public universities should encourage, not censor, the free exchange of ideas,” said ADF attorney David Cortman in a statement issued following the Supreme Court’s action. “But for now, the supposed marketplace of ideas at San Diego State University will remain a stronghold for censorship. We wish the Supreme Court would have used this opportunity to make clear that the First Amendment protects the right of student groups to employ belief-based criteria in selecting their members and leaders.”
“Throughout the years of defending its policy, the university did not tell the Democratic club it must be led by a Republican, or the vegetarian club that it must be led by a meat-eater, but it did tell Christian groups that they must allow themselves to be led by atheists,” Cortman continued. “Even its purported, 11th-hour policy change made at the doorstep of the Supreme Court continues to treat religious groups less favorably than many other student groups. When political conformity is placed ahead of the constitutionally protected rights of students, all students — including students of faith — suffer.”
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