Federal Judge Rules Against Christian Legal Group

June 03, 2009

A federal judge in Montana has ruled that the University of Montana School of Law did not violate a Christian student group’s rights by declining to give it money from the Student Bar Association.

The law school and the bar association had rejected the Christian Legal Society’s request for recognition and funds because the society’s membership criteria discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation.

In response, the Christian group, which has chapters at more than 160 law schools, sued the Montana school on First Amendment grounds.

Judge Richard F. Cebull, of the U.S. District Court in Missoula, upheld a magistrate’s recommendation that gave summary judgment to the law school. In doing so, he relied on a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in what he called a “strikingly similar, if not identical suit,” that the Christian Legal Society had filed against the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.

In the Hastings case, the Ninth Circuit supported the student bar association’s policies that recognized groups must admit all students at the law school and that required that students have the right to be free of “discrimination, harassment, or intimidation based on actual or perceived age, sex, nationality, creed, religion, color, race, sexual orientation, gender, identity and expression, disability, familial status, military service, or other purely arbitrary criteria.”

That case, Christian Legal Society Chapter of University of California v. Kane et al., has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. —Eric Kelderman