(AP) - Colleges that accept government money must allow military recruiters on campus, the US supreme court has ruled.
The judges reached a unanimous decision yesterday, despite objections from universities to the Defense Department's policy on homosexuals.
Justices rejected a free-speech challenge from law schools and their professors who claimed they should not be forced to associate with military recruiters or promote their campus appearances.
Chief justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said that the campus visits were an effective military recruiting tool.
"A military recruiter's mere presence on campus does not violate a law school's right to associate, regardless of how repugnant the law school considers the recruiter's message," he wrote.
The ruling upheld a law that requires colleges that take federal money to accommodate recruiters. In addition, justices said that Congress could directly demand military access on campus, even without the threat of losing federal money.
Law schools had become the latest battleground over the "don't ask, don't tell" policy allowing gay men and women to serve in the military only if they keep their sexual orientation to themselves.
Many universities forbid the participation of recruiters from public agencies and private companies that have discriminatory policies.
The ruling was announced on a day that the court was jammed with visitors from the military, all dressed in uniform. Justices heard arguments in the case in December, and signalled then that they were concerned about hindering a Defense Department needed to fill its ranks when the United States is at war.
"This is an important victory for the military and ultimately for our national security," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.
College leaders have said they could not afford to lose federal help, some $35bn (£20bn) a year.
Joshua Rosenkranz, the attorney for the challengers of the law, said that the case called attention to the military policy.
"We lost a skirmish in a much larger civil rights battle for the rights of gays and lesbians, which is a movement we are winning," he said.
Roberts, writing his third decision since joining the court last fall, said there are other less drastic options for protesting the policy. "Students and faculty are free to associate to voice their disapproval of the military's message," he wrote.
"Recruiters are, by definition, outsiders who come onto campus for the limited purpose of trying to hire students - not to become members of the school's expressive association," he wrote.
The federal law, known as the Solomon Amendment after its first congressional sponsor, mandates that universities give the military the same access as other recruiters or forfeit federal money.