- In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a sharply divided Supreme Court held that officials at a public institution in California might require a student religious group to admit all-comers from the student body, including those who disagree with its beliefs, as a condition of being recognized. Put another way, the Court declared that the government, through university officials, might force religious groups to choose between compromising their values and receiving benefits that other student groups receive as a matter of constitutional right.
Yet, three years after Christian Legal Society, there is cause to question the continued viability of the decision. Two recent Supreme Court decisions, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC and Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., collectively undermine the result in Christian Legal Society. First, Hosanna-Tabor establishes that religious groups have a right of religious autonomy — absolute discretion to determine whom its leaders will be. Logically, if an organization can restrict its leadership to those who adhere to the faith, basic principles, then the organization ought to be able to impose a similar requirement on membership. Second, in Alliance for Open Society, the Court revived and redefined the unconstitutional conditions doctrine — government may impose conditions that define the program, but may not impose conditions that reach outside the program. As a result, government cannot force a religious group to surrender its religious autonomy rights as a condition of receiving some government subsidy or benefit — such as university recognition or access to student activity funds. In sum, Hosanna-Tabor and Alliance for Open Society collectively contradict the result in Christian Legal Society.