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Can UC Hastings College of the Law Refuse Christian Student Group Based On Group’s Beliefs?

University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco refuses to recognize, and thereby help fund, a Christian group of students because they exclude non-Christians, lesbians and gays. The U. S. Supreme Court will determine if that is legal.

UC%20Hastings.jpgThe U.S. Supreme Court, which chooses not to hear most submitted cases, has decided to hear this one as it will likely affect public universities around the country. The battle is not a new one. Conservative Christian groups believe these limitations violate their constitutional rights. They are being forced, they say, to tolerate views that violate their religious beliefs.

Christian Legal Society filed a lawsuit against the school in October of 2004. This group limits those who may join the society based on one clear statement. The student is unable to join if he or she “advocates or unrepentantly engages in sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.” The group’s members must sign documentation stating they are committed evangelical Protestant or Catholics.

The school enforced its policy on barring discrimination based on race, national origin, sexual orientation or religion and refused the society. The group then took the matter to federal courts. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White then ruled that the school was justified in its refusal and said the school could require that organizations “accept all comers as members.” This was later upheld in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, the group appealed to the Supreme Court. Their opinion is that the school is forcing the society to abandon their identity or shut down the society altogether.

The answers to these concerns will not come soon. The case is likely to be heard in March of 2010 and a ruling may come down by June.

The argument that the society is making is that if all members had to be accepted, this would restrict the progress of the group since valuable time would be repeatedly spent discussing the fundamentals of members’ various religious beliefs. The school, however, believes the issue is whether or not universities and other public schools should subsidize discriminatory groups.

Other cases like this have been heard. In 2007, a lawsuit by Christian Legal Society against Southern Illinois University was settled in which the school said it would recognize the group. More so, the Boy Scouts of American was upheld in its decision to exclude gays and atheists from its membership roles, as a private organization’s right to free association. However, the California Supreme Court upheld another incident with the Boy Scouts in 2006 in which Berkeley denied a rent subsidy to the Sea Scouts, a Boy Scout Subsidiary.

If you are a school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, feel free to call Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.