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Religious liberty on campus


WORLD Radio - Religious liberty on campus

Students with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes say they just want to be treated the same as other clubs


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Religious liberty on campus.

A group of Christian students is once again fighting for its right to remain on campus. A court ruling in favor of the San Jose high school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes is now at risk, given that a federal appeals court said it will review the case.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Students with Fellowship of Christian Athletes say they just want to be treated the same as other clubs and have leaders who agree with their mission.

Steve West recently wrote about this case, and he joins us now to talk about the group, known by the initialism FCA. Steve’s an attorney and writes about religious liberty issues for WORLD Digital.

BROWN: Good morning, Steve!

STEVE WEST, REPORTER: Good morning, Myrna!

BROWN: Steve, student-run FCA clubs have been operating on high school campuses for decades. I certainly remember them. So what’s going on here?

WEST: That’s right, Myrna. This is exactly the kind of thing Congress tried to ensure didn’t happen when it passed the Equal Access Act back in 1984 by a bipartisan majority in both houses. That law says that if a school allows extracurricular clubs, it cannot discriminate against clubs based on religious views. So, if it allows a Senior Women’s Club, it has to allow an FCA club. Here, the school denied recognition to the FCA club because it required club leaders to agree with its statement of faith and sexual purity, which requires student leaders to adhere to Biblical views of marriage and sexuality. That’s what some students and faculty took issue with.

BROWN: I thought the students won their right to meet back in August of last year. Why is this still going on?

WEST: They did win. A three-judge panel of the appeals court last summer, on the eve of the school year, ruled in favor of the students. Two of the three judges agreed that the school did not follow its own nondiscrimination policy—allowing, for example, the Senior Women’s Club to limit their leadership to women. Which makes a lot of sense of course. But you can’t have it both ways. The judge writing the majority opinion also wrote a separate opinion just to draw attention to the level of hostility here.

BROWN: Hostility from students or teachers?

WEST: Both. When a teacher was made aware of FCA’s beliefs, he hung the statement of faith and sexual purity on his classroom whiteboard and wrote that he was “deeply saddened that a club on Pioneer’s campus asks its members to affirm these statements.” From there, it snowballed. Meetings were picketed, students attending were videoed and photographed, and students were harrassed—teachers and administrators looking on. They were forced to stop meeting formally and, eventually, in May 2019, the school district derecognized the club–meaning it no longer could use school facilities for meetings or means of communication open to other student clubs.

BROWN: So bring us up to date. What’s happening now?

WEST: So after last August, when the court ordered the school to allow FCA to meet, the school shut down all other student groups. It’s stayed that way until just recently–ostensibly because they were going to revise their policy. While FCA was able to meet because of the court order, the students chose not to, as no one else could meet and their meeting would have just attracted more hostility. Meanwhile, the school asked the entire 11-member appeals court to reconsider its ruling. And it recently agreed to do that. That means the ruling in favor of the students is out, vacated, and FCA remains unrecognized.

BROWN: Does this mean the court might now rule against the students?

WEST: It’s possible, but still uncertain. Two of those 11 judges –the two from the panel decision–will obviously be in favor of the students, but they’ll need the support of at least four more. One of the students’ attorneys, Daniel Blomberg of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is cautiously optimistic. He told me that some members of the full court may want to take the opportunity to revise some of its prior legal rulings in light of recent Supreme Court cases. And he also said that a do-over on this gives students an opportunity to draw from theories that weren’t emphasized in the panel ruling.

BROWN: So what’s next?

WEST: The court set new arguments in the case for the week of March 20th. All briefing has been done, but Blomberg said Becket and Christian Legal Society attorneys may ask the court to allow the group back on campus while the matter is resolved. It may depend on what the school decides to do, meaning they could temporarily allow the club to meet. Yet they seem dug into their position.

BROWN: Any final thoughts?

WEST: This is another case that shows where many leaders in public education are right now: A Biblical view of marriage and sexuality like that held by FCA is not tolerated, not even to be voiced. There is no live and let live. You must not say these things or you will be canceled, and the voices clamoring for that are very loud. Let’s hope and pray the court does not see it that way and instead upholds FCA’s First Amendment rights. And let’s praise God for some really courageous students who were willing to be identified with Christ and not fold under pressure. That should challenge us all.

BROWN: Steve West writes about religious liberties for WORLD Digital. You can read his work at WNG.org. You can also subscribe to his free weekly newsletter on First Amendment issues, called Liberties. Steve, always good to have you on. Thank you!

WEST: Thank you, Myrna.

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