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Court upholds law school anti-bias policy

An ideologically split Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law school can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that won't let gays join, with one justice saying the First Amendment does not require a public university to validate or support the group's "discriminatory practices."

The court turned away an appeal from the Christian Legal Society, which sued to get funding and recognition from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. The society requires that voting members sign a statement of faith, and it regards "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle" as inconsistent with that faith.

But Hastings, which is in San Francisco, said no recognized campus groups may exclude people because of religious belief or sexual orientation.

The court's 5-4 judgment upheld the lower court rulings saying the Christian group's First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise were not violated by the college's nondiscrimination policy.

"In requiring CLS - in common with all other student organizations - to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the majority opinion for the court's liberals and the moderate Anthony Kennedy. "CLS, it bears emphasis, seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings' policy."

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a strong dissent for the court's conservatives, saying the opinion was "a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country."

The court also yesterday:

Agreed to hear an appeal from business and civil rights groups trying to overturn a 2007 Arizona law that prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. The prohibition is separate from the new Arizona immigration law, also being challenged in court, which requires police to question the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.

Refused to weigh in on whether software, online-shopping techniques and medical diagnostic tests can be patented. The courts said only that inventors' request for protection of a method of hedging weather-related risk in energy prices cannot be granted. The high court unanimously agreed with a lower court ruling that threw out Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw's patent, a decision many said could endanger patents in an increasingly high-tech world.

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