Judge rules against Christian group

UC Hastings College of the Law is entitled to deny funding and official recognition to a Christian student group because it bars gays, lesbians and non-Christians as members, a federal judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White rejected the Christian Legal Society’s arguments that Hastings’ denial of student activity funds and its refusal to let the society use the school name and certain facilities at the San Francisco campus violated freedom of speech, religion and association.

Hastings’ nondiscrimination policy, which the school cited in denying recognition to the religious group, “regulates conduct, not speech,” White said.

The policy “affects what (the society) must do if it wants to become a registered student organization — not engage in discrimination — not what (the society) may or may not say regarding its beliefs,” White said.

The ruling follows a decision last month by the state Supreme Court allowing the city of Berkeley to deny a rent subsidy to the Sea Scouts because its parent organization, the Boy Scouts, excludes gays and atheists. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts’ constitutional right to define its membership overrides a state’s anti-discrimination laws, the California court declared — in reasoning endorsed by White — that government agencies are not required to fund discrimination.

Monday’s ruling is the first by any court in a series of suits by the Christian Legal Society and affiliated groups challenging similar policies at public universities around the nation, said Ethan Schulman, a lawyer for Hastings. Two such suits are pending against San Diego State University and California State University Long Beach.

Schulman said the lawsuits are “an attempt to dress up discrimination against gay and lesbian students, in particular, in First Amendment clothing.”

Lawyers for the Christian Legal Society were unavailable for comment. The ruling can be appealed to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The society, based in Virginia, says it has chapters at 165 law schools, consisting of evangelical Christians who meet for Bible study and discussions about applying their faith to the practice of law.

The Hastings chapter, called the Hastings Christian Fellowship, was formerly open to all students and was a recognized student organization eligible for funding, office space and inclusion in official publications. Starting in 2004, however, the chapter — apparently following a new national policy — required members to endorse a “statement of faith” and barred anyone who engaged in “unrepentant homosexual conduct.”

Hastings then withdrew official recognition. The school allowed the organization to continue to meet on campus.

White, an appointee of President Bush, described the school’s policy as “a reasonable regulation that is consistent with and furthers its educational purpose.” He said the religious group remained free to determine its own membership.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
San Francisco Chronicle, USA
Apr. 18, 2006
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday April 19, 2006.
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