Kumar v. Koester

Last modified 2024.03.21

  • Status Ongoing
  • Type Amicus
  • Court U.S. Court of Appeals
  • Issues Religious Minorities

Case Documents

In January 2022, California State University revised its nondiscrimination policy to prohibit discrimination based on “nationality, race or ethnicity (including color, caste or ancestry).” Two Hindu professors sued the University, contending that the inclusion of “caste” violates the Establishment Clause because the policy allegedly defines Hinduism to include caste and singles out Hinduism for disfavored treatment. The professors also made several other constitutional claims. The district court held a trial and ruled against the professors, finding no constitutional violation. The professors appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Merriam-Webster lists several definitions of “caste,” including both “one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that restrict the occupation of their members and their association with the members of other castes” and “a division of society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank or privilege, profession, occupation, or race.” The University’s policy does not refer to any specific definition.

On March 21, 2024, Americans United filed an amicus brief on behalf of neither side. Though we took no position on whether the inclusion of “caste” violates the Establishment Clause, we explained that the history of the Establishment Clause requires the government to be neutral toward religion, neither favoring nor disfavoring any particular faith, and that facial neutrality is not determinative. A nondiscrimination policy can restrict religiously motivated discrimination (for example, against LGBTQ+ people), so long as it does not single out a particular faith for disfavored treatment. And the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from defining what religious terms mean as understood by particular faiths, but the Clause does not prohibit the government from using terms that have both religious and nonreligious significance.

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