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Christian Student Group Sues Hastings Law School

 

Bay City News
October 22, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO -- A Christian student group sued Hastings College of the Law in federal court in San Francisco today, accusing the school of violating its free speech rights by imposing a nondiscrimination policy.

The San Francisco-based law school, which is part of the University of California, bars registered student groups from discriminating on the basis of religion or sexual orientation.

The Hastings chapter of the Christian Legal Society, a nationwide group headquartered in Virginia, says in the lawsuit that policy conflicts with its orthodox Christian beliefs.

The chapter, also known as the Hastings Christian Fellowship, says that all students are welcome to attend its meetings, but that its members and officers must adhere to orthodox Christian beliefs and may not engage in homosexual conduct.

The lawsuit says that this fall, Hastings refused to register the chapter as a student group because the group would not agree to abide by the nondiscrimination policy.

One of the group's lawyers, Greg Baylor, said, "Requiring Hastings Christian Fellowship to agree to the policy to obtain benefits holds them hostage by using their own beliefs against them."

Baylor said, "The policy is unconstitutional and discriminates against those who hold sincere religious beliefs."

The lawsuit claims the policy violates its members' constitutional rights of free speech, free association and free exercise of religion. It seeks a court order allowing the group to be a registered student organization while selecting members on the basis of religious beliefs and viewpoint regarding homosexual conduct.

Although outside groups can use the law school's facilities, registered students groups have priority for using meeting space, can apply for funding from student fees and can use student bulletin boards and event calendars.

A spokesperson for Hastings could not be reached for comment today.

But in an Oct. 1 letter to the group's lawyers, Hastings General Counsel Elise Traynum said that under federal and state mandates, the law school "is prohibited from supporting any program or activity that would violate the civil rights of any of our students."

Traynum said that in order to be an official student group, the Christian Society must open its membership to all students regardless of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

The general counsel also said in the letter that if the society wishes to form a local group independent of Hastings, "we would be pleased to provide the organization the use of Hastings facilities for its meetings and activities."

The Christian Legal Society is a nationwide association of Christian lawyers and law students. Its headquarters are in Annandale, Va.