San Jose School District Disqualifies Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Approves Satanic Temple Club Established to Mock Their Christian Beliefs
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Becket legal team are vowing to appeal a ruling last week by Federal Judge Haywood Gilliam for upholding the cancellation of Fellowship of Christian Athletes clubs by the San Jose School District in California.
The cancellation began when a teacher at Pioneer High School in that district posted a statement on his classroom whiteboard objecting to the recognition of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) as a school club. The FCA is open to all and asks its members to treat everyone “with love, dignity and respect.” It reserves its leadership posts for student athletes who lead the groups in prayer, worship, and religious instruction. They must adhere to its Statement of Faith, which upholds traditional Christian tenets such as the Holy Trinity and the Divinity of Christ. The FCA also holds a traditional view on marriage.
The Pioneer High teacher in this case announced that FCA’s views are “bullshit” and should be barred from San Jose’s public high schools. Student reporters from the school newspaper and others are alleged to have disrupted an FCA meeting, snapping pictures in the faces of the FCA members. A Pioneer teacher in attendance told Espiritu that this was “intimidating” and left FCA students visibly “embarrassed, harassed and scared.”
District officials responded by denying benefits to FCA clubs, called for on-campus protests for FCA and gave official recognition to a new student club – the Satanic Temple Club – formed with the specific and announced purpose of mocking FCA’s beliefs and Christianity.
The banning of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is the first and only time the district has ever “derecognized” a student club for asking its leaders to embrace the club’s views.
Last week, Judge Haywood Gilliam of the Northern District of California held that the action of the San Jose School District did not preclude religious speech but rather prevented acts of discrimination. He refused to issue a preliminary injunction of the club’s banishment. Judge Gilliam recognized no contradiction in applying this standard to the FCA, while allowing other clubs – the Latino Male Mentor Group, the Girl’s Circle, and the National Honor Society – to set membership criteria by sex, GPA, and other standards.
The Ninth Circuit should grant the request for a preliminary injunction because the district’s actions violate statute and the Constitution.
First, the district ruling violates the Equal Access Act – a federal statute prohibiting school districts from derecognizing clubs “on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the[ir] speech.” Second, it violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, banning an after-school group on the basis of its religion. And third, it violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, punishing a viewpoint on marriage held by millions of adherents of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (and not, by the way, related to the purpose of this student forum, which is centered around Bible-reading and prayer).
Becket is appealing Judge Gilliam’s refusal to set a preliminary injunction of the clubs’ cancellation to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the Ninth Circuit does not act, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes faces another year or more of an ongoing violation of their First Amendment and statutory rights.