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The Christian Legal Society is suing a half-dozen law schools nationwide, claiming that they can’t deny recognition to the group based on its refusal to offer membership to homosexuals, in violation of school nondiscrimination policies. Membership in the 44-year-old Christian organization for law students, lawyers and judges requires signing a statement of faith, and while it doesn’t specify opposition to homosexuality, “you are expected to live in conformity with the Bible’s expectations of sexual conduct,” said Tim Tracey, litigation counsel for the Annandale, Va., group. The society’s strictures denying membership or elective office to homosexuals or those who refuse to take the pledge violates university policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion and sexual orientation. And not all Christians are acceptable to the group. At Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., school officials revoked recognition of the local chapter after a Mormon law student complained that he was told he could not lead a Bible study because he taught “doctrine inconsistent with the society’s statement of faith.” When a few of the society’s chapters refused to abide by local nondiscrimination rules last year, law schools revoked their official recognition based on the discriminatory membership requirements. Tracey said local chapters have been denied access to funding provided some campus groups and the ability to call themselves recognized campus groups. Emboldened by ‘Dale’ The society began filing lawsuits last year, emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640, which held that requiring the group to admit a homosexual as assistant scoutmaster violated the scout’s rights of free association and expression. While some schools have pulled back by carving out a religious exception to their anti-discrimination rules-notably Ohio State and Florida State universities, as well as Iowa, North Dakota and Oklahoma schools-a legal brouhaha has shaped up in Arizona and California. Arizona State University College of Law and University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco are two that have drawn legal lines in the sand. Hastings attorney Ethan Schulman of Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin in San Francisco, noted that the group seems “to think that being gay or lesbian is a conscious decision based on a system of values. It is status. What is most offensive about this group’s admitted intention is their exclusion [from membership] based on mere status.” The society’s lawsuits frequently have a variety of claims including constitutional denial of free association, due process, violation of the establishment clause and free speech. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco partially dismissed the society’s suit on April 12, eliminating the establishment clause, due process and equal protection claims. The case will proceed on the free speech and free association violation claims. White did allow the society to refile its equal protection claim if it can show it was treated differently from other similar student groups. Christian Legal Society v. Kane, No. C04-4484JSW. In Arizona, the group failed to convince U.S. District Judge Neil V. Wake that it needed an immediate injunction against the school policy, and it agreed to drop state law claims and ones against the university board of regents. Wake set an August trial date for Christian Legal Society v. Crow, No. 04-cv-2572NVW, on the remaining association and free speech claims, according to Arizona State’s attorney, David Rosenbaum of Osborn Maledon in Phoenix. Rosenbaum said the school refused the society’s request last year to carve out a religious exemption. “Why should the university depart from the important principles articulated in its code of conduct to allow this organization to be recognized?” he said. He disputed any connection between the Boy Scouts case and the law schools’ anti-discrimination rules. The Boy Scouts case involved the state going out to wherever the Boy Scouts were and telling them not to discriminate. “Here the group is coming to the university and saying give us your imprimatur,” he said. Other suits are pending at Southern Illinois University, Pennsylvania State University and Washburn law schools.

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