Conservative Groups Blast Supreme Court’s Erosion of Religious Liberty

By Susan Jones | June 29, 2010 | 10:07 AM EDT

( – Conservative groups object to Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, which said state schools may deny funding to religious groups that require their officers and voting members to agree with certain religious beliefs.
In the case of Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez, a Christian group at a public law school in San Francisco refused to allow practicing homosexuals -- those who engage in sexual conduct outside of heterosexual marriage – to become leaders or voting members of CLS. In fact, CLS required voting members to sign a statement supporting traditional Christian beliefs.
In response, the University of California’s Hastings law school refused to recognize the Christian group, because its membership requirements violated the school’s nondiscrimination policy.
On Monday, after the Supreme Court sided with the law school in a 5-4 ruling, conservative groups expressed disappointment, saying the court had put political correctness above religious liberty:
"This throws student organizational mission statements out the door, as everyone at a state school with an 'all-comers' policy, regardless of belief, can now join any organization, even if they oppose that organization's purpose and mission,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
“Today's ruling renders student organizations effectively purposeless, and would allow, for example, Republicans and Democrats who wish to sabotage one another's college groups to join and undermine them from the inside out.”
The ruling, said Perkins, erodes religious freedom under the guise of preventing discrimination against homosexuals:
"In this case, the Court is suggesting that orthodox Judeo-Christian teaching against homosexual conduct is untenable on America 's university campuses. This is a grave breach of both freedom of religious speech and freedom of association, and a troubling day for America 's long history of protection from religious discrimination.”
Perkins noted that the decision came on the same day the Senate began confirmation hearings for President Obama’s liberal Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. The Martinez ruling “is just another reason why the United States needs justices who will uphold the Constitution and not undermine its guaranteed religious liberty to push a social agenda," Perkins concluded.
‘Guidance for K-12 public schools’
The National School Boards Association (NSBA praised the Supreme Court ruling, saying it will allow K-12 school districts “to preserve equality and maintain nondiscrimination policies for student groups and extracurricular activities.”
The Martinez decision gives “clear guidance” to public school districts, which may now adopt nondiscrimination policies without fear of liability.
“It is important that the Supreme Court recognized that nondiscrimination policies are powerful tools in our public schools,” said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA executive director. “This ruling is critical in helping school districts continue to foster an inclusive environment for all students.”
‘Discriminatory decision’
The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative civil liberties group, expressed extreme disappointment with the court ruling, which “significantly damages the constitutional rights of religious organizations,” it said.
"The majority of the Supreme Court missed the mark in understanding that it is fundamental to religious freedom that religious groups are free to define their own mission, select their own leaders and determine their own membership criteria,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ. 
“By permitting a discriminatory decision by the federal appeals court to stand, the Supreme Court decision represents, as Justice Alito correctly concluded in the dissent, 'a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country.'  And, we, like Justice Alito, hope this decision will be an aberration and not a shift in First Amendment jurisprudence."
In its amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court on behalf of Christian leaders and student groups, the ACLJ argued that religious groups are constitutionally protected in following their religious beliefs.
"Religious groups by their nature embrace religious principles and, as a matter of organizational identity and coherence, will normally require adherence to such principles as a criterion for membership and certainly for leadership," the amicus brief asserted.  "This is not 'discrimination' but rather part and parcel of what defines them as religious groups.”