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High Court Declines Rights Cases Of Homosexual, Blind Students

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Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to hear Texas A&M University's appeal of an appellate-court decision affirming the right of a homosexual-student group to organize on campus.

That dismissal marked the Court's second decision in a week concerning the rights of homosexuals in schools or colleges. In an earlier 4-4 decision, it let stand a lower court's decision to strike down an Oklahoma law prohibiting the dismissal of teachers for publicly advocating homosexuality. (See Education Week, April 3, 1985.)

The Court last week also agreed to hear arguments in a case involving a blind ministerial student in Washington State who was denied state college aid on the grounds that the aid would violate the separation of church and state.

And over the objections of three Justices, the Court returned to a lower court a suit brought by students at a California school for the blind, who protested the relocation of the school to a location that they claimed was vulnerable to earthquakes.

Homosexual-Student Group

In the Texas case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had ruled in August 1984 that Texas A&M's refusal to officially recognize Gay Student Services as a campus group violated the group's First Amendment rights of free speech and association.

The circuit court reversed a U.S. district judge's 1982 decision upholding the university's position. In a case brought by the homosexual-student group, the district-court judge had ruled that the university was not required to create a forum open to all student groups.

The university had argued that "there is no right of freedom of expression or association when the result is speech brigaded with conduct that is morally repulsive or illegal, as is the case at hand." The university noted that "homosexual conduct" is illegal in Texas.

On April 1, the Supreme Court dismissed the case for "want of jurisdiction."

The case was Texas A&M University v. Gay Student Services (Case No. 84-724).

Aid to Student

In their term beginning next fall, the Justices will hear arguments on an appeal brought by a blind ministerial student who was denied entrance into a vocational-rehabilitation program administered by the Washington State Commission for the Blind. The program is supported with state and federal money.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in October 1984 that the First Amendment's ban on state advancement of religion prohibited aid to the student, Larry Witters, because he wanted to be trained as a minister. The state court ruled that Mr. Witters's participation in the program would have the "primary effect" of advancing religion.

The case is Witters v. State of Washington (No. 84-1070).

Earthquake-Safety Case

By a 5-3 vote, the Justices returned to federal district court a suit brought by students at the California School for the Blind, who alleged that the state had not properly inspected the school site in Fremont for seismic safety.

The students, who sued in 1980 under P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, also objected on procedural grounds to the state's relocation of the school from Berkeley to Fremont in 1980.

A federal district court ordered the state to study thoroughly the safety of the site in the event of earthquakes. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld that injunction and the state appealed the ruling.

The Supreme Court's majority said that the state's appeal was moot because the safety study has now been completed, and it returned the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California to review other issues raised in the students' class action.

"No order of this Court could affect the parties' rights with respect to the injunction we are called upon to review," the unsigned majority opinion said.

In a three-page dissent, Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, joined by Associate Justices John Paul Stevens and William J. Brennan, said he was not convinced that the seismic-safety study had been completed properly.

The case is Honig v. Students of the California School for the Blind (No. 84-436).

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