A Christian group sued Hastings College of the Law (search) in federal court here Friday, seeking recognition as an official campus organization.

The Christian Legal Society (search) says it should get campus funding and other benefits — but should not have to open its membership to gays, lesbians and nonbelievers, as required by the San Francisco school that is run by the University of California (search).

"The First Amendment provides a right of expressive association," said Tim Tracey, an attorney for the society. "We want to associate with people that affirm a certain number of our beliefs."

Tracey said the group has a right to exclude people it does not wish to associate with, as does the Boy Scouts of America (search).

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Boy Scouts and its affiliates can prohibit gay boys from joining and gay men from becoming scout leaders. The high court said the constitution gave scouts the right to choose its members.

The 30-member Hastings group was told in October that it was being denied recognition, including university funding and benefits, because of its policy of exclusion.

Neither the university's dean, spokeswoman nor its legal counsel returned calls seeking comment. But in an Oct. 1 letter to the group, the university's general counsel said "the college is prohibited from supporting any program or activity that would violate the civil rights of any (of) our students."

The group has about 140 chapters at universities nationwide, Tracey said.