The Supreme Court, Campus Ministry and Discrimination

(reposted from

A case that is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court could have wide-ranging ramifications for those involved with campus ministry. A Christian-based organization, Christian Legal Society (CLS), is hoping to gain official recognition as a student organization from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. However, the school has not allowed their paperwork to go through because the group has some stipulations on who can become a leader within their organization. Specifically, the Christian Legal Society has been denied because they ask their leaders to agree to the group’s statement of faith and abide by certain codes of conduct in line with biblical standards for morality.

To learn more about this pivotal case, you can read here.

As a campus minister, I am watching this case closely. What is at stake here is whether Christian organizations can require their leadership to agree to a common set of beliefs and behavior that is in agreement with the purpose and philosophy of the organization. Amazingly, Hastings rejected the CLS’s application as a registered student organization not just because they felt it discriminated against homosexuals but because it discriminated against those with other religious beliefs.

The school is not saying that the CLS can’t exist on campus but they would be denied certain privileges that other registered organizations are afforded. These privileges would include such things as funding from the school, the ability to reserve on-campus meeting rooms, set up informational tables on the campus, etc. Should the U.S. Supreme Court uphold the school’s decision, we would be heading down a very slippery slope.

Because all state run universities have some sort of non-discrimination clause for student organizations, Christian organizations have had to agree to keep their group open to all students. However, when choosing its leadership, Christian groups (like others) have been allowed to only select those that are in agreement with the group’s core beliefs and practices. Should Christian groups now be required to select anyone as a leader then those groups could cease be greatly hindered in their ability to live out their mission.

Since religious organizations are based upon the beliefs of its members, they inherently discriminate within its leadership against those with different beliefs. And so do other groups. The president of the atheist group does not believe in God and the leader of the College Republicans is not a Democrat. A women’s group is not forced to have a male chauvinist as it’s leader nor is the Gay and Lesbian Society headed up by someone that believes homosexuality is sinful.

In denying the CLS as an official organization, the school has stated that they believe the group is discriminating against homosexuals. I find it odd that they are not coming to the defense of heterosexual students that are engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage also. Because, in reality, many more straight students are denied leadership positions in Christian organizations because of their extramarital activities. Since the CLS does not accept leaders who exhibit “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle”, it can be considered that any sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and woman — heterosexuality, homosexuality or anything else — would be a disqualifier for leadership.

Should Christian groups on college campuses be required to accept anyone into leadership positions, then there would be a dramatic shift in how campus ministries would operate. By being denied meeting space, funding and other similar amenities, Christian groups would have to operate in a much more low-key and relational manner. The big meetings and on-campus events would be a thing of the past as we would be forced to meet in smaller group settings without official recognition by the school.

Throughout history the Christian message has spread rapidly during times when Christians were persecuted or churches were not recognized by the government. So although I hope the Supreme Court is consistent with our country’s value of freedom of religion, God is not limited by whether a school recognizes a group. As long as God is in it then His name will be made known.