WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) Lawyers for the University of California's Hastings College of the Law argued in front of the United States Supreme Court Monday that the school bylaws are clear: if you exclude members on the basis of race, creed or sexual orientation you don't get financial support from the school - and they say that's why the law school refused to recognize the Christian Legal Society as a student group eligible for funding and benefits.
The Christian Legal Society sued Hastings in 2004 after the school revoked its charter when the group changed its rules, requiring members to endorse a "statement of faith," and barring anyone who engaged in "unrepentant homosexual conduct." A federal judge and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Hastings' decision to revoke the charter. But the the appeals court's March 2009 ruling conflicted with an earlier decision by a federal appeals court in a similar case, prompting the Supreme Court to take up the issue.
The Supreme Court Justices seemed to split sharply Monday when questioning lawyers from both sides regarding the legal basis for excluding the charter.
"It is so weird to require the campus Republican Club to admit Democrats, not just to membership, but to officership," Justice Antonin Scalia said in response to the school's lawyer saying the college requires the same thing from all groups that want to operate on campus.
"To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes, right? That's crazy," Justice Scalia said.
Other justices questioned where a ruling for the Christian group would lead.
"Are you suggesting that if a group wanted to exclude all black people, all women, all handicapped persons, whatever other form of discrimination a group wants to practice, that a school has to accept that group and recognize it, give it funds and otherwise lend it space?" asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Gregory Garre, the lawyer for Hastings College, pointed out that the Supreme Court ruled previously that Bob Jones University in South Carolina could not ban students who believed in interracial dating, and still receive federal funds.
"Here we have a group that wants to exclude members on the basis of sexual orientation," Garre said.
Chief Justice John Roberts said that was only Garre's interpretation. "It's a religious-oriented group that wants to exclude people who do not subscribe to their religious beliefs," he said.
The court is expected to rule sometime in June.