Supreme Court denies cert in school religious club case

by on July 6, 2009  •  In Religion, Supreme Court

In a little-noticed order on the last day of its 2008-2009 term, the Supreme Court denied cert last week in Truth v. Kent School District, a Ninth Circuit case in which a high school religious club sought to register with the school in order to use school facilities. In its opinion (542 F.3d 634, rehearing denied 551 F.3d 850), the Court of Appeals rejected the club's claim that enforcement of an anti-discrimination law constituted religious discrimination. The proposed charter filed by Truth restricted membership to those "complying in good faith with Christian character, Christian speech, Christian behavior and Christian conduct as generally described in the Bible." Voting members also had to sign a "statement of faith" and pledge "acceptance of Jesus Christ as my personal savior."

The school district denied recognition to Truth in part because of the implications of its name that other religions were false and in part because the membership criteria discriminated against non-Christians.  However, the Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment for the district on the ground that there was a triable factual dispute over whether the district consistently applied its anti-discrimination policy to all student clubs equally.

The cert petition filed by Truth challenged the Ninth Circuit's ruling that Truth had no viable claim under the Equal Access [to Schools] Act, absent the possible selective enforcement argument. Truth asserted that under that ruling, "schools are free to discriminate against student religious groups because of their membership criteria." Truth also argued that the Court of Appeals' rejection of its expressive association claim failed to properly apply Boy Scouts v. Dale.

Denials of certiorari in and of themselves do not create precedent, so one should not read too much into this one.  It does, however, seem to bode well for the defendants in Christian Legal Society v. Kane, in which the Ninth Circuit upheld judgment for UC-Hastings Law School (Mary Kay Kane was then dean), rejecting similar claims of expressive association and First Amendment rights by CLS. 2009 WL 69339. The Court of Appeals summarily affirmed a district court decision, citing simply its ruling in Truth v. Kent. Any risk that the latter opinion will be overturned is now over.

Meanwhile, CLS filed a cert petition in its case, which is before the Supreme Court this summer. Based on Truth v. Kent, the prospects for another denial of review, leaving in place a good decision, seem good.


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