California School District Ordered to Allow Christian Athletic Club Back into Public Schools After Ban
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A panel of judges has issued a ruling that mandates a California school district to reinstate a Christian athletic club in public schools after the district had previously banned the group due to its adherence to Christian teachings on sexuality.
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In 2019, the San Jose Unified School District took the controversial step of revoking its recognition of student groups associated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). The primary reason behind this decision was the club's requirement for members to affirm a statement of faith that upholds the belief that sexual activity is only permissible within the confines of a marriage between a man and a woman. The school district argued that this mandatory affirmation constituted discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.
Despite the fact that affiliated FCA clubs had been operating in the school district for more than a decade, each club was abruptly removed from the schools within the district. A lower court initially sided with the school district, but this decision was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on a recent Wednesday, allowing the clubs to resume their activities in public schools.
According to the court's ruling, the San Jose Unified School District was found to have engaged in a "double standard" when it penalized the Fellowship of Christian Athletes "based on its religious beliefs."
The court opinion emphasized that the district failed to treat the Fellowship of Christian Athletes "on equal footing with comparable secular student groups whose membership was limited based on criteria including sex, race, ethnicity, and gender identity." The court unequivocally stated that "the Constitution prohibits such a double standard."
The appellate court's decision grants the Fellowship of Christian Athletes temporary relief, thereby permitting it to enjoy equal access to public schools while the ongoing litigation is resolved. It's important to note that this ruling does not definitively settle the constitutionality of the issue; however, it strongly indicates that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is likely to succeed in its claims against the school district.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Danielle J. Forrest expressed her view that the district had, in fact, discriminated against Christians under the pretext of fighting against discrimination.
"The height of irony is that the district excluded [the Fellowship of Christian Athletes] students from fully participating in the [Associated Student Body] program in the name of preventing discrimination to purportedly ensure that all students feel welcome," the opinion read. "In doing so, the district selectively enforced its nondiscrimination policy to benefit viewpoints that it favors to the detriment of viewpoints that it disfavors."
Rigo Lopez, the leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for Bay Area schools, praised the ruling in a statement, expressing the organization's excitement about resuming its service on school campuses.
"[Fellowship of Christian Athletes] is excited to be able to get back to serving our campuses," Lopez said. "Our FCA teams have long enjoyed strong relationships with teachers and students in the past, and we are looking forward to that again."
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes received legal representation from Becket, a nonprofit law firm specializing in religious freedom cases. Daniel Blomberg, a vice president and senior counsel at Becket, issued a statement in response to the ruling, emphasizing its significance in ensuring equal treatment for religious students.
"This is a huge win for these brave kids, who persevered through adversity and never took their eye off the ball: equal access with integrity," Blomberg said. "Today's ruling ensures religious students are again treated fairly in San Jose and throughout California."
It's important to note that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction not only over California but also over eight other states, including Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. This ruling sets a precedent that could have broader implications for religious freedom and equal access to public spaces in these regions.