Religious Freedom: High Court Makes Key Rulings

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court is wrapping up its latest session with key rulings involving the First Amendment.

On Thursday, justices ruled that Washington state voters who signed a petition asking for a referendum on gay rights are not automatically guaranteed privacy. The signers feared being targeted for trying to protect traditional marriage.

However, the fight may not be over yet.

Traditional Marriage Petition

The group known as Protect Marriage Washington organized the petition drive in an effort to give the public a chance to vote on repealing the state's domestic partnership law.

Gay rights activists then asked the state for the petitioners names. The request left some feeling uneasy in light of what happened in California after the Proposition 8 campaign.

The Golden State's gay rights activists targeted churches and individuals who supported overturning gay marriage. Vandalism and job threats were common. Some even faced death threats.

"Having police with you all the time, surveillance, those sorts of things--it really makes you stop and think," Pastor Jim Franklin said.

Still, the Supreme Court justices ruled 8 to 1 that it is not unconstitutional to make the names of petitioners public.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the 8-1 judgment for the court, said it is vitally important that states be able to ensure that signatures on referendum petitions are authentic.

"Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures," Roberts said. "Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot."

According to Regent University law professor Bradley Jacob, most of the time public disclosure isn't a big deal.

"There's only a few where these really hot button social issues come up," Jacob told CBN News. "But if that's the case, there could be some fear that people wouldn't want their name on the petition."

The court noted that Washingtonians who fear retaliation can ask a lower court to protect their identities.

"When speakers are faced with a reasonable probability of harassment," Justice Samuel Alito wrote. "The state no longer has any interest in enabling the public to locate...supporters of a particular measure."

Christian Club Case

Meanwhile, the high court will also rule on another significant case on Monday.

In the case of the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, Christian students wanted the benefits of being recognized by the University of California's Hastings College of Law.

The Christian Legal Society required members to sign a statement of faith - one that bans practicing homosexuals and non-believers.

However, the school demanded student groups accept anyone as a member.

"If you want state funding, public funding and you want to use the Hastings name, then you have to abide by the Hastings policy," said Leo Martinez, acting chancellor and dean at the school.

"This is about the ability, the freedom of everybody to be able to form groups based around shared beliefs and be able to express themselves on campus," Michael McConnell with the Hastings Christian Legal Society argued. "The particulars of what they believe just doesn't matter."

The group known as the Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty has backed the Christian Legal Society, arguing the college's policy would also ban gay-only groups.

*Originally broadcast on June 25, 2010.

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Jennifer Wishon

Jennifer Wishon

CBN News White House Correspondent

Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at