High court takes Christian students' case

Baptist Press
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Posted: Dec 10, 2009 5:30 PM
WASHINGTON (BP)--The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether a state university may deny recognition to a student religious organization that requires its leaders and members to affirm its beliefs.

The high court announced Dec. 7 it would review a lower court's ruling in favor of the University of California Hastings College of the Law's refusal to recognize the Christian Legal Society as a "registered student organization." The justices likely will hear oral arguments in the case during this term and issue an opinion before they adjourn early next summer.

The Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter at the law school sought official recognition in the 2004-05 year but was denied. The school said CLS' constitution violated its nondiscrimination policy, specifically its religious and sexual orientation provisions.

CLS welcomes all students to its meetings but permits only those who agree to the organization's statement of faith to be members or leaders.

Status as a "registered student organization" enables a group to use campus facilities for meetings and provides access to means of communication at the school. The CLS chapter is the only organization to be refused recognition by the Hastings College of the Law, according to the Christian group.

After a federal judge ruled in the school's favor, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his decision. A panel of the appeals court ruled in March that the law school's denial of recognition to CLS was "viewpoint neutral and reasonable."

CLS asked the Supreme Court to review the decision, contending that the Ninth Circuit's ruling conflicted with opinions by other federal appeals courts, as well as previous decisions by the high court.

CLS welcomed the justices' decision to accept the case.

"Public universities shouldn't single out Christian student groups for discrimination," said Kim Colby, CLS senior counsel, in a written release. "All student groups have the right to associate with people of like-mind and interest. We trust the Supreme Court will not allow Hastings to continue to deprive CLS of this right by forcing the group to abandon its identity as a Christian student organization."

Hastings College of the Law is located in San Francisco.

The case is Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.

Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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