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Supreme Court considers campus Christian group's rights

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court seemed to split sharply yesterday on whether a law school can deny recognition to a Christian student group that won't let gays join, a case that could determine whether nondiscrimination policies trump the rights of private organizations to determine who can - and cannot - belong.

In arguments tinged with questions of religious, racial and sexual discrimination, the court heard from the Christian Legal Society, which wants recognition from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law as an official campus organization with school financing and benefits. Hastings, in San Francisco, turned them down, saying no recognized campus groups may exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.

The Christian group requires that voting members sign a statement of faith. The group also regards "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle" as being inconsistent with the statement of faith.

"CLS has all of its activities entirely open to everyone," lawyer Michael McConnell said. "What it objects to is being run by non-Christians."

A federal judge threw out the Christian group's lawsuit claiming its First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise had been violated, a decision upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a two-sentence opinion in 2004.

The court is expected to rule this summer.

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