Ninth Circuit Slaps Down School District’s Shut Down of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes – Again
The long-running effort by the San Jose Unified School District to keep the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) from being a recognized student club is finished. The FCA is now allowed back on campus for after-hours school meetings, just like any other recognized student organization.
This case revolved around the FCA’s requirement that students adhere to Christian teachings. A teacher, later portrayed by a federal judge as launching an “inquisition” against the FCA, drilled down into FCA websites to discover that this Christian organization holds the same position on marriage as, unsurprisingly, many Christian dominations. After an onslaught of personal attacks on the FCA and its student-members coordinated by faculty, the FCA was kicked off San Jose campuses.
The FCA sued. After winning a lower court ruling, the school district lost in 2022 before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a sharp rebuke, Judge Kenneth E. Lee – one of two judges on the three-judge panel that decided for the FCA – wrote that the school district “portrays a stench of animus against the students’ religious beliefs.”
Undeterred, the school district doubled down and asked for a hearing before an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit, in which 11 judges would hear the district’s justification for the removal of this student club. That decision came down this month.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that “anti-discrimination laws and the protections of the Constitution work in tandem to protect minority views in the face of dominant public opinion.” The court also said the District had regrettably used a discriminatory “double standard” against the FCA that failed to treat “FCA like comparable student groups” and instead “penalized it based on religious beliefs.”
The Ninth Circuit’s opinion held that just as high schools’ Senior Women club has all-female members, or the honors clubs sets standards of “good moral character” for their members, so too does it make “equal sense that a religious group be allowed to require that its leaders agree with the group’s most fundamental beliefs.”
The court concluded that the First Amendment counsels “mutual respect and tolerance for religious and non-religious views alike.” We would only add that the use of lawfare to cancel this group or that group is inimical not just to the U.S. Constitution, but to respect for pluralism that is at the heart of the American ideal.