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Supreme Court takes case of student group that bars gay members

Christian student group cites freedom of religion in disallowing gay members. The college cites its nondiscrimination policy. The Supreme Court has agreed to decide which will prevail.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 8, 2009


The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to take up a case testing the limits of religious freedom and association when those rights clash with a college's policy of nondiscrimination against gays and lesbians.

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The Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco was stripped of its registered student organization status at the college because it refused to allow gay and lesbian students to become voting members or officers of the group.

Under the Hastings nondiscrimination policy, student organizations must allow fellow students to join and potentially seek leadership positions in any organization without regard to their status or beliefs.

A statement of Christian faith

Starting in the 2004-2005 academic year, the CLS required prospective members to sign a statement of Christian faith. The statement includes a pledge that the undersigned student trusts in "Jesus Christ as my savior."

Prospective members must express belief in several religious tenets, including "one God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." The statement includes a pledge of belief in the virgin birth, eternal life, Jesus' resurrection, a divinely created heaven and earth, and that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

In addition, the national Christian Legal Society developed a policy position stating its view of biblical principles of sexual morality. The position, adopted by the Hastings chapter, said that "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle" was inconsistent with the group's statement of faith and would disqualify an individual from membership.

"A person who advocates or unrepentantly engages in sexual conduct outside marriage between a man and a woman is not considered to be living consistently with the Statement of Faith and, therefore, is not eligible" for membership in the CLS, according to the group's legal brief.

Official recognition denied

Hastings officials informed CLS that it would have to open its membership to all students despite their religion or sexual orientation. When the group refused, the law school denied CLS official recognition as a student group.

"No other student organization had ever refused to comply with Hastings' nondiscrimination policy and none has a membership policy like CLS's, which explicitly prevents Hastings students from joining on the basis of their religion, sexual orientation, or any other protected status," writes Ethan Schulman in a brief filed on behalf of Hastings.

Mr. Schulman says the college's nondiscrimination policy is designed to encourage "tolerance, cooperation, and learning among students of different backgrounds and viewpoints."

There are about 60 registered student organizations on the Hastings campus, including Hastings Outlaw (a gay rights group), Black Law Students Association, the Clara Foltz Feminist Society, Silenced Right: National Alliance Pro-Life Group, Law Students for Choice, Hastings Republicans, and Hastings Democratic Caucus.