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Justices to rule on excluding gays

Rights of campus Christian group in Calif. at issue

Supreme Court will rule on restrictions of the Christian Legal Society at California’s Hastings College. Supreme Court will rule on restrictions of the Christian Legal Society at California’s Hastings College. (AFP File)
By Jesse J. Holland
Associated Press / December 8, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court said yesterday it will decide whether a California law school violated the constitutional rights of a Christian group by denying it recognition as an official campus organization because it excludes gays and lesbians.

The justices agreed to intervene in a case that pits antidiscrimination policies common on college campuses against freedoms of religion and association.

The Christian Legal Society at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law requires officers and voting members to share their religious beliefs, including that “Christians should not engage in sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.’’

The group filed a federal lawsuit after the San Francisco law school refused to accord it official status.

The school said all official campus groups, which are eligible for funding and other benefits, may not exclude people because of religious belief, sexual orientation, and other reasons.

Federal courts in San Francisco rejected the group’s assertions that the law school’s policy violated the college group’s freedoms of speech, religion, and association.

The justices agreed to hear the group’s appeal, and argument will take place in the spring.

The 30-member Hastings group was told in 2004 that it was being denied recognition because of its policy of exclusion.

“The court below got it wrong, and we’re trusting that the Supreme Court will correct this,’’ said Kim Colby, senior counsel with the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom.

According to a society news release, the group invites all students to its meetings.

“However, CLS voting members and officers must affirm its Statement of Faith,’’ the statement said. “CLS interprets the Statement of Faith to include the belief that Christians should not engage in sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.’’

Colby said that simply means that the group simply “requires that their leaders share their religious beliefs.’’

The Christian Legal Society has chapters at universities nationwide. The group has sued other universities on the same grounds.

In other action yesterday, the Supreme Court seemed to signal that it is headed toward telling police they must explicitly advise criminal suspects that their lawyer can be present during any interrogation.

The arguments in front of the justices were the latest over how explicit the Miranda warning rights have to be, as justices debated whether the warnings police gave Kevin Dwayne Powell made clear to him that he could have a lawyer present while being interrogated by police.

Powell was convicted of illegally possessing a firearm after telling police he bought the weapon “off the street’’ for $150 for his protection.

Before confessing, Powell signed a Miranda statement that read: “You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you without cost and before any questioning. You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.’’

The Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction on grounds the Tampa police didn’t adequately convey to Powell that he was allowed to have a lawyer with him during questioning.

Joseph W. Jacquot, Florida deputy attorney general, argued that the warning given Powell “expresses all the rights required under Miranda.’’

Justice Stephen Breyer clearly disagreed.

“Aren’t you supposed to tell this person that unlike a grand jury, you have a right to have the lawyer with you during interrogation?’’ Breyer said.

Different courts have ruled differently on what exactly should be said, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said.