Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Recent Supreme Court Decisions

There have been two Supreme Court decisions that have affected the LGBT community. One was about whether name of people who sign petitions should be made public and the other was about the use of student activity fees.

The case was about an effort by the anti-marriage equality group, Protect Marriage Washington, to block the disclosure of the names of the people who signed the petitions to for a referendum to repeal a legislative measure that extends legal protections to same-sex couples.
U.S. Supreme Court: Petition signatures are public
By Cathy McKitrick
The Salt Lake Tribune

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that names signed to initiative and referendum petitions are a form of political speech and should therefore be made public.

The 8-1 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts said disclosing signatures helped protect the integrity of petitioning by ensuring that only valid signatures are counted toward getting an issue on the ballot.

“Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot,” he wrote.

The case, Doe v. Reed, dealt with Referendum 71 in Washington state. The ballot measure, which failed, had sought to overturn a state law granting domestic partnership rights to gay and lesbian couples.

Proponents of keeping petition signers’ names secret argued that disclosing them could open those individuals to retaliation or other harm. And they pointed to the Proposition 8 battle in California, where voters — including some LDS Church members — said they suffered vandalism or other harassment for working to overturn same-sex marriage.
The other case that that the Supreme Court ruled on was about a law sued by a Christian student group at University of California's Hastings College of the Law because they were not allowed to discriminate against non-Christians and LGBT students. The college has a rule that all student groups that receive funds from the student activity fees must be open to all students. The Christian Legal Society said that the rule was unconstitutional and sued.
Court: Christian group can't bar gays, get funding

WASHINGTON — An ideologically split Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law school can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that won't let gays join, with one justice saying that the First Amendment does not require a public university to validate or support the group's "discriminatory practices."

The court turned away an appeal from the Christian Legal Society, which sued to get funding and recognition from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. The CLS requires that voting members sign a statement of faith and regards "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle" as being inconsistent with that faith.

But Hastings, which is in San Francisco, said no recognized campus groups may exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.

The court on a 5-4 judgment upheld the lower court rulings saying the Christian group's First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise were not violated by the college's nondiscrimination policy.

"In requiring CLS — in common with all other student organizations — to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the 5-4 majority opinion for the court's liberals and moderate Anthony Kennedy. "CLS, it bears emphasis, seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings' policy."

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a strong dissent for the court's conservatives, saying the opinion was "a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country."

"Our proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express 'the thought that we hate,'" Alito said, quoting a previous court decision. "Today's decision rests on a very different principle: no freedom for expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country's institutions of higher learning."

But the decision is a large setback for the Christian Legal Society, which has chapters at universities nationwide and has won similar lawsuits in other courts.

"All college students, including religious students, should have the right to form groups around shared beliefs without being banished from campus," said Kim Colby, senior counsel at the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law & Religious Freedom.
I have been watching this case since I am past Co-Chair of the UConn School of Social Work’s Pride committee. The university has the same policy as the University of California's Hastings College of the Law, that the student organization must be open to all students if they are receiving student funds.

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