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A group of Christian law students seeking to exclude homosexuals from its ranks at the University of Montana is appealing a federal judge's ruling that upholds UM's decision not to recognize the group as a registered student organization.
The First Amendment case was brought in December 2007 when the local chapter of the Christian Legal Society sued the law school, arguing that UM violated its rights to free speech when the Student Bar Association refused to fund the society.
The Student Bar Association says it refused funding because the group's mission is at odds with a non-discrimination policy requiring student groups to be “open to all members of the school of law.”
The Christian Legal Society, a national faith-based organization, requires members of its individual chapters to sign a “statement of faith” pledging to uphold “sexual morality standards.” Those standards ban homosexuality, adultery and extramarital sex.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula, the lawsuit names UM Law Dean Edwin Eck, Student Affairs Director Margaret Tonon and the executive board of UM's Student Bar Association as defendants.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull ruled that UM's Law School did not violate the rights of the Christian Legal Society when it refused to recognize the group as an official student organization.
All students enrolled in the School of Law automatically become members of the Student Bar Association and pay mandatory student activity fees. The Student Bar Association then determines funding to student law groups.
Last Friday, the Christian Legal Society filed notice that it would appeal Cebull's decision with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Briefs in support of the appeal must be filed by July 28.
According to the suit, the Christian Legal Society encourages Christian law students to grow in their faith as they learn the law. To protect the Christian message, the organization says it requires all voting members and leaders to agree with the statement of faith.
“Christian student groups shouldn't be discriminated against for their beliefs. All student groups have the right to associate with people of like mind and interest,” CLS attorney Casey Mattox said in a statement. “For example, the Environmental Law Group at UM seeks to promote certain views of global warming. Should it be forced to accept members and officers who hold to views that undermine the group's purpose? Similarly, religious groups should be allowed to select officers and voting members from those who share their views to ensure that their message and whole reason for being is not lost.”
The Missoula Area Secular Society is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization fostering a community of atheists, secular humanists, agnostics, skeptics, and other non-theists in and around Missoula, Montana.