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Top Five: Supreme Court Will Hear Christian Legal Society Case

Plus: Destroying shrines in Uganda, a COGIC abuse battle, North Carolina's atheist ban, and the latest on Matt Chandler.

1. Supreme Court to decide whether campus Christian groups must allow gay leaders

In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter at the University of California's Hastings College of Law must allow students who disagree with the group's statement of faith to take leadership positions.

That ruling seems somewhat at odds with a 2006 ruling by a panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the court told Southern Illinois University it could not revoke official status for a CLS chapter.

On Monday, the Supreme Court said it would hear the Hastings Law case (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez). After the 9th Circuit decision, Timothy J. Tracey told Christianity Today that the Supreme Court's 2000 decision Boy Scouts v. Dale should shape the outcome. "It was about whether or not the Scouts had to accept an openly homosexual guy as a Scout leader," Tracey said. "There were two important aspects of the Supreme Court's decision that relate to the CLS case. One was that a core value of the Scouts was that engaging in homosexual activity was immoral. The second is that you'd have to put this guy in a position of leadership—he'd be leading, teaching, instructing, and that would affect the impression of the group."

But Boy Scouts v. Dale won't be CLS's only argument. The group notes that Hastings grants exceptions to its open membership rule and has singled out CLS. "In the Hastings Democratic Caucus, you have to support the mission of the Democratic Party," Tracey said. "In Silenced Right, a pro-life group on campus, they say, 'We want you to agree with our pro-life beliefs and principles.'" If the school grants exceptions to some groups but not to CLS, it is engaging in viewpoint discrimination, he said. (A  key Supreme Court ruling for this argument is 1995's Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, in which the school was told it erred when it denied funding to a religious publication.)

Lawyers for the school may argue that denying membership based on sexuality is fundamentally different from denying membership based on political ideology.

"The real question is whether a law school is obliged to subsidize a group with student fees that is committed to discriminating against some students," Ethan P. Schulman, a lawyer for the law school, told the Los Angeles Times. "If their position is accepted by the court, it could force universities across the country to subsidize discriminatory organizations, including possibly hate groups or extremist groups."

Still, it's hard to see how the Supreme Court could agree without overturning Boy Scouts v. Dale.

Supreme Court nerds, by the way, are noting that five months ago, the Supreme Court decided not to review Truth v. Kent School District, the 9th Circuit decision that was the backbone of its Christian Legal Society decision. Why deny certiorari to Truth and grant it to CLS? One guess: The court would rather deal with the rights of law school students than of high schoolers ("The Supreme Court has said universities have a special role in the marketplace of ideas," Tracey noted in the CT interview.) Another guess: Someone on the court really wanted to deal with this issue, missed the chance with Truth, and has been working hard at this second chance. That might explain why it took an almost historic amount of time for the justices to decide whether to hear the case at all.

2. The other Uganda controversy

While Christians debate whether to speak out about Uganda's virulent anti-homosexuality bill, Uganda's New Vision newspaper reports that homosexuality isn't the only thing Ugandan Christians are violently opposing.

"Three Anglican bishops and five clergy members on Friday survived being lynched by a mob in Mityana district when they attempted to destroy a traditional shrine," the paper reported. "The shrines reportedly belonged to Christians who had become born-again. Christians regard shrines as an aspect of witchcraft."

3. 'Fostering forgiveness' or injustice?

It's remarkable that COGIC Bishop Jerry Maynard's takeover of Greater St. Mark COGIC in South Memphis is not making more headlines. Dwayne Wilson, the church's 25-year-old music minister, was charged with statutory rape for having sex with a 16-year-old member of his choir.

But Pastor Ronald Rolfe allowed Wilson to stay in his position. "The word of God teaches us to forgive and to pray," said Rolfe. "The best thing I can do as a clergyman is to extend God's hands of forgiveness." Wilson made "poor choices," Rolfe said, but told The Commercial Appeal it wasn't his place to condemn.

Church member Thanessa Bennett told WREG she agrees. "Church is what he needs, he made a mistake," she said. "I feel that he was wrong, but we forgave him. That's what the Bible teaches us. We can't hold anything over his head."

"The Bible does teach us to forgive," the girl's father responded, "but when you break the law of the land, you have a debt to pay." He told television station WMC, "Having him in a position of leadership says we condone the behavior" and alleged that Wilson has "had one sexual relationship after another since he's been there." The family is looking for another church.

Now after a congregational vote, the Commercial Appeal reports that Jurisdictional Bishop Jerry Maynard has been appointed temporary CEO of the church. Rolfe remains pastor. (Wilson was finally dismissed two weeks after he was charged.) Maybe someone familiar with COGIC workings can explain in the comments section the difference between a congregational CEO and a pastor.

This seems to be a fundamentally different dispute than the sex-offender church attendee dispute we recently looked at. But it's tempting to compare it to the case of Mark Hourigan, who was recently appointed as music minister in Louisville, Kentucky, even though he was convicted of sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy a decade ago. Should offenders be banned from church ministry for the rest of their lives? If not, at what point should they be allowed to minister?

4. North Carolina's ban on atheist officials is tested

Here's Article VI of the U.S. Constitution: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

Here's the Supreme Court's 1961 Torcaso v. Watkins decision: "We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person 'to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.' Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs."

And here's Article 6, section 8 of the North Carolina constitution: "The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God."

So can atheist Cecil Bothwell take the oath of office today as he joins the Asheville City Council? The Asheville Citizen-Times asks the question, quoting a former Asheville NAACP president who says he can't.

"Interesting legal point there: deny the being of Almighty God," Bothwell remarked on a blog thread this week. "From my end of this discussion, I don't 'deny the being of Almighty God,' I simply consider the question of denial or acceptance irrelevant. Could make for a very interesting court case, seems to me."

5. Matt Chandler's pathology results due

Prominent Dallas pastor Matt Chandler underwent a seven-hour surgery to remove a brain tumor last Friday and was moved out of ICU on Sunday. The church says a pathology report on the tumor should be available mid-week. Before his surgery Chandler left his church a thankfulness list and a video focusing on Hebrews 11:32-38. Definitely worth watching as you pray.

Other articles of note:

  1. Charges dismissed against BeBe Winans (The Clarion-Ledger)
  2. Shocking revelation: Minister took part in robbery that left two dead (The Trentonian)
  3. Schuller group buys 2 faith-based media companies | Robert A. Schuller's ComStar Media has acquired FamilyNet Television and FamilyNet Radio. (The Dallas Morning News)
  4. Ex-cop's lawyer: Why no charges for others? (The Detroit Free Press. See also Lawyer: Church offered no bribe in camp sale from The Livingston Daily Press & Argus.)
  5. Jesus Day in Baghdad (The New York Times)
  6. UCLA researchers demonstrate that stem cells can be engineered to kill HIV (UCLA Newsroom; Note that it's talking about human blood stem cells, not embryonic stem cells.)

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