According to ADF, San Diego State University denied official recognition to the two Christian organizations because they require members and/or leaders to agree with the organizations’ religious beliefs.
To receive official recognition, student organizations are required to abide by a nondiscrimination policy, which includes a prohibition on religious-based discrimination in selecting members and leaders. But this requirement actually discriminates against religious organizations, ADF argues, because it allows secular organizations to require members and leaders to agree with the organization’s beliefs but does not allow religious organizations to do the same thing.
According to ADF, this case is similar to Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, which the Court decided in 2010, but it presents a specific legal issue that the Court left undecided in Martinez. In Martinez, the Court addressed a policy that required all student organizations to open their membership and leadership to all students—an “all comers” policy.
ADF argues that this case is different, because the policy in this case allows secular student groups to exclude students from membership and leadership who do not agree with the groups’ beliefs, but does not allow religious organizations to do the same thing.
In addition to the legal issues presented, this case also raises the important public policy question of whether religious selection by religious organizations is socially desirable conduct that should be protected and encouraged or unjust discrimination that should be banned.
In general, it is neither irrational nor unjust for organizations to determine which activities further their mission and to select individuals who identify with and are committed to that mission. This is how organizations, including religious organizations, define themselves.
Society condemns religious selection by non-religious organizations, because those organizations were not formed to facilitate religious community, activities, and goals. However, religious organizations facilitate religious community, activities, and goals. Therefore, as a general rule, it is neither irrational nor unjust for religious organizations to choose individuals committed to those ends.
Indeed, forcing religious organizations to ignore religion in selecting members and leaders is, in general, bad public policy. Intact, cohesive religious groups contribute to socially beneficial forms of diversity that occur naturally in a free and open society. Forcing religious organizations to ignore religious beliefs and commitments of participating individuals would dampen this diversity and trivialize the importance that religion has in the lives of many individuals and organizations.
Further, as ADF argues, such policies “effectively [transform] laws designed to protect individuals and groups from discrimination based on their religion into tools to punish, penalize, and exclude individuals and groups because of their religion.” Such policies also put religious groups at a disadvantage by marginalizing the activities and purposes at the core of religious groups without imposing a similar disability on secular groups.
In contrast, protecting the religious integrity of religious organizations promotes respect and toleration for sincere differences in religious beliefs and commitments. Protecting the freedom of religious groups to choose members and leaders based on religion also promotes religious freedom and upholds fundamental principles that empower individuals of all beliefs and worldviews to better their lives through participating in groups of like-minded and similarly committed people.
ADF’s request for review in Alpha Delta Chi v. Reed provides an important opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify the rights religious organizations at public universities enjoy under the U.S. Constitution. At the same time, decision-makers throughout the country should reflect more deeply on why religious selection by religious organizations is socially beneficial conduct worth protecting, not unjust discrimination that should be banned.