MISSOULA, Mont. — The student chapter of the Christian Legal Society at the University of Montana is suing the university's law school after being denied funding by the Student Bar Association.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula, the lawsuit names as defendants UM Law Dean Edwin Eck, student affairs director Margaret Tonon and the executive board of UM's Student Bar Association.
According to the suit, the Christian Legal Society encourages Christian law students to "grow in their faith as they learn the law, integrating their faith into their chosen profession."
The organization says it requires all voting members and leaders to agree with a "statement of faith," including its view that Christians should not engage in sexual activity outside the context of marriage between a man and a woman.
The students allege that UM's Student Bar Association granted their organization preliminary approval for both recognition and funding, but when the matter came up for final ratification, funding was denied because of objections e-mailed by other students.
The next day the Student Bar Association Executive Board withdrew recognition from the chapter, stating that the group's policies violated the Student Bar Association nondiscrimination rule, the lawsuit says.
The group also contends that when asked to reverse the decision, Eck upheld the Student Bar Association's decision.
When contacted about the matter, Eck deferred all comment to UM's chief legal adviser, David Aronofsky, who said he was still familiarizing himself with all of the details of the court documents.
"I don't have an official position on it yet," he told the Missoulian newspaper, which reported the lawsuit yesterday.
Speaking as a member of the teaching staff at the law school, however, Aronofsky said the law surrounding religious-group activity at a state university falls into a "gray area."
When it comes to separation of church and state, he said, "the law is unsettled in this regard and ultimately it will take a Supreme Court case to determine what the law is."
The University of Montana has a nondiscriminatory policy and the Student Bar Association will not allow funding to a group that is not open to all students, Aronofsky said.