San Jose Unified School District Likely Discriminated Against Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Eugene Volokh:

From Fellowship of Christian Athletes v. San Jose Unified School Dist., decided yesterday by the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Kenneth Lee joined by Judge Danielle Forrest (it’s on a preliminary injunction, so this is technically based on a finding of likelihood of success on the merits, but the panel majority seems pretty firm of the subject):

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) requires students serving in leadership roles to abide by a Statement of Faith, which includes the belief that sexual relations should be limited within the context of a marriage between a man and a woman. The San Jose Unified School District … revoked FCA’s status as an official student club at its high schools, claiming that FCA’s religious pledge requirement violates the School District’s non-discrimination policy….

The School District engaged in selective enforcement of its own non-discrimination policy, penalizing FCA while looking the other way with other student groups. For example, the School District blessed student clubs whose constitutions limited membership based on gender identity or ethnicity, despite the school’s policies barring such restricted membership. The government cannot set double standards to the detriment of religious groups only….

We apply strict scrutiny to government regulations that burden religious exercise unless those laws are neutral and generally applicable. A law is not neutral and generally applicable if it is selectively enforced against religious entities but not comparable secular entities. “[W]hether two activities are comparable for purposes of the Free Exercise Clause must be judged against the asserted government interest that justifies the regulation at issue.” … Finally, the “Government fails to act neutrally when it proceeds in a manner intolerant of religious beliefs or restricts practices because of their religious nature.”