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School need not aid group that excludes gays

A divided Supreme Court on Monday upheld a California law school's refusal to recognize a Christian student group that, in effect, banned gay members.

In a closely watched case that pitted First Amendment rights against anti-discrimination policies, the court concluded 5-4 that the University of California's Hastings College of the Law acted reasonably in refusing to recognize and subsidize the Christian Legal Society.

The court's majority reasoned that Hastings simply was applying a standard, nondiscriminatory requirement that all student organizations accept all would-be members. In doing so, the court rejected the Christian Legal Society's claim that the policy infringed on religious and freedom-of-association rights.

The group's conduct, "not its Christian perspective, is, from Hastings' viewpoint, what stands between the group" and recognition, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority.

Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, said he was "extremely disappointed" in a decision that "significantly damages the constitutional rights of religious organizations."

In other action, the court:

*Vatican lawsuit -- A lawsuit against the Vatican that had been dismissed as a publicity stunt moved forward when the court refused to hear an appeal from the Holy See. Monday's development represents a significant advance for what many believed to be a long-shot claim that the Vatican bears legal responsibility for molester priests.

The high court's decision not to stop the lawsuit means the clergy sex abuse case will go to trial in a U.S. District Court in Oregon.

"I have known for 25 years that all roads lead to Rome," said Jeff Anderson, the Minnesota attorney who represents the plaintiff. "This is the beginning for us of a new journey, a uniquely difficult odyssey."

Anderson, who has represented hundreds of abuse victims and has tried for years to sue the Vatican, said he hoped to persuade a judge that he should be allowed to depose Vatican officials.

Jeffrey Lena, the U.S. attorney for the Holy See, argued the Vatican is not responsible for individual priests in dioceses, saying the priest in the case "was unknown to the Holy See until after all the events in question."

The original lawsuit, John V. Doe v. Holy See, was filed in 2002 by a Seattle-area man who said the Rev. Andrew Ronan repeatedly molested him in the late 1960s.

The Obama administration had sided with the Vatican on the issue of sovereign immunity.

The acting U.S. solicitor general, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the case does not meet the standard for an exception to immunity.

*Tobacco -- justices rejected appeals by the Obama administration and the nation's largest tobacco companies to get involved in a legal fight about the dangers of cigarette smoking. The court's action prevents the administration from trying to extract billions of dollars from the industry in past profits or to fund a national campaign to curb smoking.

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