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California Supreme Court backs private school in bias case

The California Supreme Court has let stand a lower court ruling that allowed a private religious school to expel two 16-year-old girls for having a “bond of intimacy” that was “characteristic of a lesbian relationship.”

The girls had sued California Lutheran High School, contending that the Riverside County school had violated a state anti-discrimination law.

An appeals court ruled in January that the private religious school was not a business, and therefore did not have to comply with a state law that prohibits businesses from discriminating.

The California Supreme Court this week declined a request from the girls’ attorney to review the case; one justice, Kathryn M. Werdegar, disagreed.

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Casey Mattox, litigation counsel for the Virginia-based Center for Law and Religious Freedom, called it “the correct decision.”

“We think it preserves religious freedom,” he said.

But the girls’ attorney, Mike Grace of the San Diego firm GraceHollis, said it was “particularly disappointing . . . on a lot of levels.”

He said he feared the decision would give a “green light” for private schools to discriminate not just against gay students, but against children in other legally protected classes, such as race, as long as religious beliefs were offered as a justification.

In ruling in favor of the school, the appeals court cited a 1998 California Supreme Court decision that said the Boy Scouts of America was a social organization, not a business establishment, and therefore did not have to comply with the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com


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