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Montana high school revokes student club's official status because of religious beliefs

ADF represents students in letter to Bozeman High School, explains school’s violation of Constitution, federal law

Monday, Dec 16, 2019
BOZEMAN, Mont. – Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter last week to officials with Bozeman Public School District and Bozeman High School after they unlawfully revoked the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ status as a school-sponsored club. The letter explains that the de-recognition of the Bozeman High School huddle of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, after over five years as a school-sponsored student club, violates the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Act.

Bozeman High School currently recognizes at least 34 different clubs on campus, including the Environmental Awareness Club, Sexuality and Gender Alliance, Human Rights Club, Project X2+, and Youth Legislature. As the ADF letter explains, the Equal Access Act makes it illegal for the school “to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.”

“Public school officials must respect the constitutionally protected freedoms of all students, especially when those officials have rightfully approved a whole range of other clubs formed around political, cultural, and social interests,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Larcomb. “The First Amendment doesn’t allow a public school to play favorites when approving student organizations or discriminate against students based on their speech or religious beliefs. Bozeman High School must recognize this club and, both the school and the district must update their policies so that this doesn’t happen again.”

ADF attorneys represent students Jon Wheeler, Bridger Wilkes, Mackenzie Hebner, and the Bozeman High School huddle of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which seeks to continue in its status as a school-sponsored student club. On Nov. 21, Bozeman High School revoked FCA’s status as a school-sponsored club, treated them as an off-campus business or organization, required that their flyers bear a yellow sticker (highlighting their non-school-sponsored status), and refused to allow them to make schoolwide announcements.

The ADF letter points out that the actions of school officials “violate federal law under the Equal Access Act, jeopardize federal funding to BHS, and ignore 30-year Supreme Court precedent protecting the rights of religious student clubs to be treated equally with other student clubs. Refusing to recognize FCA as a school-sponsored club because of its religious mission and denying it the same privileges as other non-curricular clubs is illegal.”

The letter requests that the officials inform ADF in writing, no later than Dec. 18, that they have reinstated FCA as an official school-sponsored club, and that it will receive the same rights, benefits, and privileges as other non-curricular student clubs at Bozeman High School.
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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