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Clash over military recruiters on campus

High court must decide if schools can discriminate against military if it discriminates against gays.

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Less than a week after it heard arguments in an abortion notification case, the US Supreme Court Tuesday takes up another hot-button issue in the nation's culture wars. This time it involves law-school protests designed to end discrimination against gays in the military.

At the center of the legal showdown: to what extent military recruiters should have access to law school campuses. The case involves conflicting conceptions of free speech. It also could erode some civil rights laws, which use federal funding to encourage nondiscrimination.

On one side of the current case are a group of law professors and law schools seeking equal treatment of gays interested in serving the nation as members of the armed forces. In protest of the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning openly gay individuals from the military, the law schools restricted military recruiters from fully participating in school-sponsored employment events.

Military recruiters could still come to campuses, but the law schools' employment placement offices would not assist them. The message was that the schools would not abet military discrimination against some of their own students.

Congress and the Pentagon responded to the law schools' restrictions by passing the Solomon Amendment. It threatens to cut off federal funding to any college or university that does not provide military recruiters the same access to law students as it does to any other potential employer.

Such a sanction would cost Yale and Harvard universities $300 million a year each in lost federal grants and contracts, according to briefs in the case. New York University would lose $130 million. Overall, universities receive nearly $35 billion a year in federal funding.

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