A federal appeals court in San Francisco today upheld a policy by San Diego State University to refuse to recognize a Christian sorority and a Christian fraternity as official student groups.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based its ruling on a similar case in which the Supreme Court last year upheld the denial by Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco of official student group status to the Christian Legal Society.
Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson wrote, “Constitutionally speaking … San Diego State’s policy is not materially different” from the policy approved by the Supreme Court in the Hastings case.
“The university’s policy does not violate plaintiffs’ rights of free speech and expressive association,” Pregerson wrote.
“Plaintiffs are free to express any message they wish, and may include or exclude members on whatever basis they like; they simply cannot oblige the university to subsidize them as they do so,” the court said.
In the San Diego State case, the student sorority Alpha Delta Chi and the fraternity Alpha Gamma Omega required members to be Christians.
The university said that requirement violated a policy barring official student groups from discriminating on the basis of factors such as religion, race and gender.
At Hastings, the Christian Legal Society barred members who were nonbelievers or engage in “unrepentant homosexual conduct.”
In both cases, the non-recognized groups were denied university funding, free publicity in student newsletters and free meeting rooms. But the groups could still hand out flyers on school property, recruit student members and rent university rooms for meetings.
One difference between the two cases was that Hastings required groups to open membership to all interested students, while San Diego State had a narrower policy barring discrimination against specific categories of students.
But the appeals court said the Supreme Court’s ruling applied to San Diego State as well because both policies were reasonable and did not discriminate on the basis of viewpoint.
The court sent the case back to a federal trial judge in San Diego, however, to consider a second claim in which the sorority and fraternity allege that the policy is enforced unfairly.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News