Amy Choate-Nielsen: Religion on campus: Status of religious student groups is challenged by court ruling

Published: Friday, July 13 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

But because of the benefit groups receive for being recognized by universities, it's only fair that the groups should also comply with the university's policies, says Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard Law School.

"Until (the Christian Legal Society Supreme Court case), it was a golden moment for religious organizations on campus," Feldman said from his home in Massachusetts. "They could get all of the support without any of the downside. After (the case), they had to choose. They have to play by the government's rules."

Future implications

Attorneys at the Alliance Defense Fund weren't happy with the Supreme Court's ruling in the Christian Legal Society case in June 2011, but they are more alarmed with what the case will mean for the future.

Already, the decision has impacted similar cases looking to reconcile religious organizations with non-discrimination policies.

In August, 2011, several Christian student groups applied to receive recognized status at San Diego State University — and they were denied. The groups filed a lawsuit arguing that their First Amendment rights were being compromised in a designated public forum. The district court disagreed. The court of appeals disagreed, as well, and the groups have had a hard time surviving without recognition.

"We are so marginalized on campus in most cases that you might as well not exist," says ADF attorney Jeremy Tedesco, who argued for the case. "That is a significant mar on a group. If you think about how involved government is in so many aspects of our lives you start to see the danger of that line of thought."

Tedesco says he worries the Supreme Court's decision, and all those that follow after, will open the door for other religious groups outside of the university setting to be excluded from public forums. That is cause for even greater alarm, Tedesco says. And reason enough to fight the little battles of each case in the mean time.

"If your local school has a policy that allows organizations to use their facilities, if they attach a non-discrimination policy to that and say we don't allow churches that discriminate who their leaders are to use this facility, then all churches are excluded," he says. "That's a dangerous avenue for us to go down in this country."

EMAIL: achoate@desnews.com

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