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A new suit claims the antidiscrimination policy at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco is unfair to student religious organizations. Hastings has recognized Hastings Christian Fellowship as an official student organization in the past. But this fall, the school refused to give the group official status because HCF wouldn’t agree to accept members and officers regardless of their religion or beliefs about homosexuality. Two legal groups representing the HCF, a local chapter of the Christian Legal Society, say they’ve launched similar challenges in other states, but this will be their first in California or the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals jurisdiction. The school’s policy says Hastings won’t discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation, according to the complaint. “We wholeheartedly agree that there should be no discrimination on the basis of any of the other classes,” said Steven Aden, chief litigation counsel for CLS’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom in Annandale, Va. “Where the rubber hits the road is with respect to religion and sexual orientation, because that really cuts to the heart of who the club is as a Christian evangelical organization.” In the suit, filed in San Francisco federal court late last week, Aden’s legal group and the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund claim Hastings is violating HCF’s federal constitutional rights, including freedom of expressive association, free speech, free exercise of religion and due process. The complaint names the chancellor, director of student services and all 10 members of the Hastings board of directors as defendants. Hastings General Counsel Elise Traynum, who notes that HCF hasn’t expressed a problem with the policy in the past, maintains that state and federal law don’t allow the public law school to budge. “We are not in any way infringing upon their right to associate,” Traynum said. “We will allow them to use our facilities just like we would any other community group. “The only thing that we are precluded from doing is funding them, because funding comes from student fees.” Aden says anyone can participate in the club’s activities. But becoming a member or officer is another matter, he said, because the group will lose its identity if its decision-makers don’t share certain beliefs. Aden estimates the club has 12 to 24 members at any time. “Will they require a vegetarian club to admit meat-eaters or a Democratic Party student group to admit Republicans?” ADF Chief Counsel Benjamin Bull added in a written statement. In addition to funding, HCF will lose out on other privileges, such as help from the Office of Student Services and space on school bulletin boards, the suit says. CLS members have to sign a “statement of faith.” While it doesn’t spell out an explicit view on gays and lesbians, the organization interprets it as requiring a shared belief prohibiting sex between people of the same gender. Lawyers for the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund say they’ve challenged similar university and law school policies in other states, such as Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio. Ohio State University changed its antidiscrimination policy at the beginning of this month to allow groups with firm religious beliefs to write their own policies according to their beliefs, said university spokeswoman Elizabeth Conlisk. But she said the change was separate from a lawsuit CLS filed in March. Aden and ADF attorney Joshua Carden say their legal groups haven’t challenged a similar policy in California — or in the 9th Circuit — until now. “The 9th Circuit has a reputation for being a little left-leaning,” Aden said. “But the 9th Circuit’s also been the circuit, for example, that approved the use of state monies in Washington state for the study of theology,” he added, citing Davey v. Locke, which the U.S. Supreme Court reversed last term. And given Hastings’ location, he added, “We don’t have a choice.”

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