Ruling in Supreme Court Case Could Have Negative Implications for Campus Ministry

Regular readers may remember two posts I made here and here regarding a Supreme Court case that could have major implications for traditional church-based campus ministries.

Today, the verdict is in, and the ruling didn’t go in the favor of religious organizations.

From the story posted on

Anti-Bias Rules Upheld

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled today, 5-to-4, that public colleges and universities may require religious organizations seeking recognition or funds as campus groups to comply with anti-bias rules.

The ruling came in a lawsuit by the Christian Legal Society, which challenged the anti-bias rules of the Hastings College of Law of the University of California. The Hastings policy bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and the Christian Legal Society bars gay people from becoming members. Hastings has argued – with backing from many in public higher education – that state universities have an obligation to adhere to strict anti-bias rules. But the Christian Legal Society – with backing from many religious groups – has argued that forcing it to comply with anti-bias rules amounts to infringing on its First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

The Supreme Court’s decision, by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, found that the law school’s policy was “a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access” that did not raise First Amendment issues in the way the Christian Legal Society argued.

The opinion explicitly rejects the argument of the Christian Legal Society that a public university has no business limiting its ability to be recognized and to apply its own rules to membership. “CLS’s analytical error lies in focusing on the benefits it must forgo while ignoring the interests of those it seeks to fence out: Exclusion, after all, has two sides,” the decision says. “Hastings, caught in the crossfire between a group’s desire to exclude and students’ demand for equal access, may reasonably draw a line in the sand permitting all organizations to express what they wish but no group to discriminate in membership.”

A dissent, by Justice Samuel Alito, blasted the decision, saying that it set a principle of “no freedom for expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country’s institutions of higher learning.”

Many public colleges and universities have anti-bias policies similar to those of Hastings, so a ruling for the Christian Legal Society would have forced changes at many institutions. The issue has been particularly intense at public law schools (where the Christian Legal Society has sought recognition) and at undergraduate institutions with Greek systems (when Christian fraternities have sought recognition). Some public colleges and universities – faced with legal threats by supporters of the Christian Legal Society – have changed their policies to exempt religious groups, and those institutions could conceivably now reconsider.

Read the full story here.

We’re not exactly sure what this will mean at most universities yet, but if there are any implications for traditional campus ministry at all they will most likely be negative.

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4 thoughts on “Ruling in Supreme Court Case Could Have Negative Implications for Campus Ministry

  1. […] Jul If you’re interested in learning a little more about the Supreme Court ruling I wrote about the other day, check out this post from Benson […]

  2. I have written a few responses on the same idea. I am torn, because I think these institutions, if accepting direct financial aid from the university, should be subject to the university’s policies. It is a part of taking their money.

    My question, however, is what this means for campus ministries who do not accept DIRECT financial aid but benefit from indirect aid: access to rooms on campus; ability to advertise on campus; booth space during student activities; email and internet access; etc. This policy is poorly worded, because it leaves a lot open to a judgment call.

    Also, it opens a lot of strange doors. Should sororities have to accept men into their ranks? Must Buddhist groups allow Christian officers too? One of the statements Ginzberg makes is that no organization should benefit from student funds while not opening its membership to all students. Does this mean that I could have played on the basketball team in college?

    Ok, enough argumentative statements. I guess I wonder how you think it will be applied.

  3. G says:

    well, at least they’re not feeding us to the lions or burning us at the stake, i think we can handle a few matters of financial restructuring, most of our campus ministries are lean and mean (mean to the devil, not sincere seekers) so i don’t think we will be the target that some of the large, showy ministries with huge entertainment are

    one thing: we must be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves in how we handle ourselves if this ruling affects us, the campus ministry i participated in while i lived in huntsville was invited to a forum on “gay christian” issues, we were specifically invited because we had conducted ourselves well when there was a great amount of turmoil on the UAH campus over their presence and recognition of their club (i.e., separate from ours, so this isn’t quite the problem that this ruling brings up). however, when we got there, they tried to silence our voice and set up a certain “rules of engagement” that favored them, it was like we were the nice guys so we were invited to attend to somehow give approval to their agenda but we weren’t allowed to counter the erroneous interpretation of scripture they presented or in any way speak of the possibility of repentance and change regarding their behavior. we were cordial and respectful, but the meeting ending rather quickly after they read their “rules” still, the point is that Christians can interact in such public discourse in a peaceful manner that can eventually persuade the opposition, but it takes a lot of prayer and perseverance

    i commented on the other two posts if you wanna look there, i hope what i’ve said is helpful

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