Christian Fraternities & Sororities Can’t Be Officially Recognized Campus Group, Affirms Supreme Court

By ELLIOT SPAGAT 03/19/12 08:13 PM ET

Two unidentified member of Alpha Delta Chi pray before the chapter meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008, at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga. (AP Photo/Peter Prengaman)

SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider a request by Christian groups on a college campus to allow them to limit membership based on religious beliefs.

Justice turned back a legal effort by a Christian fraternity and sorority at San Diego State University that challenged an anti-discrimination policy at California state universities.

The lawsuit filed in 2005 said the plaintiffs should be allowed to insist members follow their religious standards of conduct and avoid sex outside of marriage between a man and woman.

Susan Westover, head of the California State University system’s litigation unit, welcomed the Supreme Court decision,

“We don’t want our students to discriminate, just like we don’t want our employees to discriminate,” she said.

The Alliance Defense Fund, based on Scottsdale, Ariz., argued the case for the groups, David Cortman, senior counsel for the fund, said San Diego State will “remain a stronghold of censorship” as a result of the court decision.

The Alpha Gamma Omega-Epsilon Chapter fraternity and the Alpha Delta Chi-Delta Chapter sorority continue to exist but have struggled.

Refusing to go along with the school’s nondiscrimination policy made the groups ineligible for a host of privileges such as getting student funding, posting signs on campus, reserving office and meeting space, using the school name or mascot and promoting themselves on the university website.

With Monday’s decision, the justices let stand a federal appeals court ruling that found San Diego State University’s nondiscrimination policy doesn’t violate the Constitution.

The decision to stay out of the case avoids revisiting questions that resulted in a 2010 decision that said a law school can deny recognition to a Christian student group that wouldn’t let gays join. An ideologically split Supreme Court ruled then that University of California’s Hastings College of the Law could refuse to recognize campus groups that excluded people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.

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

Several religious groups recognized by San Diego State also welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday to stay out of the 2010 case.

“I think it’s a great policy. I don’t think there should be any discrimination at all, in any way,” said Curtis Lester, 22, a fifth-year student and president of the Aztec Christian Association.

Lester said school recognition has been critical for his group. Along with being able to use the school mascot in its name, the Aztec Christian Association posted signs on campus for a meeting that drew about 80 people on campus.

Jayson Nicholson, assistant for the Agape House Lutheran Episcopal Campus Ministry at San Diego State, said recognition allowed that group to recruit students at a table during Welcome Week for new students and hold religious services on campus. He enthusiastically backs the school policy.

“I personally feel it is positive not to discriminate in any way, shape or form,” he said.

The case is Alpha Delta Chi-Delta Chapter v. Reed, 11-744.


  1. says

    Don’t fraternities and sororities already discriminate if they don’t feel someone is the right “fit” for them? Granted, my experience with them doesn’t extend beyond movies and television, but knowing how things work in the real world with groups of young adults, I can’t imagine there are many with “come one, come all” attitudes.

    Plus: fraternities/sororities are already discriminatory (and antiquated) based on binary sex divisions.

    • says

      Yes, they can and do discriminate, if you will, on those things. But discrimination based on religion is unlawful for state actors (basically, those whose paychecks come on state checks) under the Civil Rights Act. The private group might be able to keep one out if they are not of the proper religious bent. But, the school, an agent of the state, cannot have, as part of its makeup, a recognized group that is in violation of the law.

  2. John Hinkle says


    I was poking around the SC’s website to answer this myself, but came up empty.

    Do/did any of the Justices provide an opinion/statement for the petition denial? Can these denials be split decisions, or do they have to be unanimous?

    Or was this just a no-brainer for the SC, and thus once again we have the ADF and ACLJ tilting at windmills?



    • says

      Excellent question. Thank you. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), with a very few exceptions, only hears appeals.

      Literally thousands of cases are sent to them, each requesting that SCOTUS review that particular case.

      Four of the nine justices must agree that the Court should hear a case before “certiorari” is granted.

      Such requests for review can come from a party or parties who lost the case in either the United States Courts of Appeals or in any of the highest courts of a state.

      Now this is important and is much misunderstood. If SCOTUS declines to hear a case, this does not in any way mean that SCOTUS agrees with the holding of the lower court. It means that SCOTUS has decided not to hear the case. That refusal has the result of letting the ruling of the lower court stand, in the state, or in the Federal Appeals Circuit it came from, but is not a determination by SCOTUS on the merits of the case. And SCOTUS never tells why it refuses to take the case.

      It is perfectly possible, and it has happened, that SCOTUS will deny review to a case and then, sometime later, grant review to another case with almost identical questions of law. When this is done, the final ruling by SCOTUS will apply to every court in the United States.

      It has been correctly observed that the Supreme Court may not be right. But it is final.

      Hope this helps.


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