This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is word from the Supreme Court on the upcoming term’s big church-state case.

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether a Christian student group’s right to religious liberty and the freedom of association can trump a university’s ban on discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The case could set new rules for campus groups that receive funding through fees paid by the students.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal from a San Francisco chapter of the Christian Legal Society, which lost its recognition as a student group at the UC Hastings College of Law because it refused to abide by the school’s anti-discrimination policy.

The law school said that officially recognized student groups must be open to all.

It’s pretty straightforward. The state school only funds and recognizes student groups that don’t discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation.” The chapter of the Christian Legal Society refuses to allow LGBT students to join, so Hastings lost its status as an official student group.

The group filed suit, claiming “discrimination” against conservative Christian beliefs. The school responded that the Christian Legal Society could still meet informally, but the school is not legally required to subsidize groups that show prejudice towards other students.

The CLS lost with both the district and appeals courts, but hope for a reversal at the Supreme Court. Many universities fear a CLS victory would lead to subsidies for extremist groups.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* A new report from Gallup confirms that “Americans’ religious intensity continues to be a major predictor of party identification.” In keeping with recent trends, “Republicans outnumber Democrats by 12 percentage points among Americans who are classified as highly religious, while Democrats outnumber Republicans by 30 points among those who are not religious.”

* Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), in what was apparently intended as a gesture of goodwill, has written and recorded a new song for Jews: “Eight Days of Hanukkah.”

* And speaking of the festival of lights, the White House issued a Hanukkah message in Hebrew yesterday.

* A new city councilman in Asheville, N.C., was recently sworn into office, despite a state law that prohibits anyone who “does not believe in almighty god” from serving in elected office. Local conservatives are apparently raising a fuss.

* And finally, this season’s ultimate “War on Christmas” accessory is a seven-and-a-half foot Christmas tree, with a huge wooden cross in the middle. It’s called the “CHRIST-mas” Tree, and sales of the display will go to support right-wing legal groups, including Pat Robertson’s American Center of Law & Justice.