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Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Hastings Law Student Group Discrimination Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in a case where the University of California’s Hastings College of Law has refused to recognize a student group, the Christian Legal Society (CLS), because it violates the school’s anti-discrimination policies by banning all non-Christian and all lesbian or gay students from membership. The CLS originally filed suit to seek recognition from the school so that it could gain access to financing and benefits, which include access to meeting spaces. In its suit, the group alleged violation of their first amendment free speech and association rights. According to the Associated Press, the case reached the Supreme Court after a federal judge threw out the lawsuit and then a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge upheld the lower court’s decision in 2004. Initial indications show a split on the high Court regarding the case. During oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia said, “It is so weird to require the campus Republican Club to admit Democrats, not just to membership, but to officership?” He continued, “To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes, right? That’s crazy,” reported the Associated Press. Other justices disagreed, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, she reportedly asked “Are you suggesting that if a group wanted to exclude all black people, all women, all handicapped persons, whatever other form of discrimination a group wants to practice, that a school has to accept that group and recognize it, give it funds and otherwise lend it space?” Sotomayor also asked, “What is wrong with the purpose of a school to say, ‘We don’t wish (to recognize) any group that discriminates?’,” reported McClatchy. A lawyer representing Hastings, Gregory Garre, told the San Francisco Chronicle that requiring student groups to allow the participation of all interested students in accordance with the school’s nondiscrimination policy “ensures that all students enjoy equal access to all school-subsidized and school-recognized activities.” Michael McConnell, a lawyer representing the CLS, told the Associated Press “CLS has all of its activities entirely open to everyone,” lawyer said. “What it objects to is being run by non-Christians.”

Sources:

San Francisco Chronicle 4/19/10; Star-Telegram 4/19/10; Associated Press 4/20/10; McClatchy 4/19/10

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