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Students bar Christians

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A Christian-based student group at the University of Montana School of Law has been denied official recognition—and student activity fee funding—on the basis that the group discriminates against homosexuals. But a spokesman for the Christian Legal Society (CLS) says his group doesn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation.

“We don’t have a problem with sexual orientation in the sense that a person says, ‘I have a homosexual orientation, or a heterosexual orientation or a bisexual orientation.’ That in and of itself isn’t a problem,” explains Casey Mattox, an attorney for the Center for Law & Religious Freedom, CLS’s litigation arm. “The question is: What do you believe about sexual activity outside of marriage? And do you engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?”

The group has been fighting similar battles all over the country with varying degrees of success, but the issue came to a head in Missoula last month when the executive committee of the UM Student Bar Association (SBA) sent its budget to the law school’s student body for approval. That budget included funding for CLS, which the SBA had initially agreed to recognize. But the student body rejected the budget by a vote of 60-45-3 (with three votes going to “Chuck Norris”) because many students thought it was improper for a public university to fund a group that barred homosexuals from membership. According to UM legal counsel David Aronofsky, whether the SBA had a legal right to reject the funding is uncertain. Some federal courts have ruled that universities can’t discriminate against a religious group—even if the group itself discriminates—but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering a contrary case that could determine the fate of CLS at UM and throughout the West.

In the meantime Mattox is hoping UM officials will take a closer look at CLS’s policies and “statement of faith” that dictate group membership.

“The idea is not that homosexuals are singled out in any way,” he says. “If you’re having sex outside of marriage it’s sort of irrelevant what the sex of the other person is.”

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