Montana High School Revokes Official Status of Christian Club, Says Sponsorship Would Violate State Constitution

BOZEMAN, Mont. — A high school in Montana recently revoked the official status of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) student group because it viewed the sponsorship as being a violation of the state Constitution. Attorneys representing the group argue that it is wrong to deny FCA equal privileges simply because of its religious nature.

“To the extent that you believe [Bozeman High School] violates the Montana Constitution or the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution by giving BHS FCA the same privileges as other non-curricular student groups, you are mistaken,” reads a letter submitted by the religious liberties legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

“BHS’s sponsorship of BHS FCA does not ‘advocate sectarian tenets’ any more than sponsorship of Sticker Club advocates for the use of more stickers,” it argues. “BHS FCA must simply be granted the same privileges that sponsorship affords to other clubs.”

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Bozeman High School officials revoked the status after four female students complained that FCA “discriminates” against homosexuals. They noted that FCA requires its leaders to take a pledge of sexual purity and considers sexual activity between the same gender to be sinful.

One unidentified mother said that the girls were “concerned about protecting LBGTQ students, who face higher risk of suicide.”

On Nov. 21, officials at the high school met with representatives of FCA and decided to no longer grant official status — after five years of previously so. The revocation means that FCA cannot make announcements regarding activities over the loudspeaker like other groups, and any promotional flyers must bear a yellow sticker noting that the group is not school-sponsored.

While Bozeman Public Schools did not mention the matter of homosexuality in its reasoning to the Daily Chronicle, Superintendent Bob Connors said that upon the advice of the board trustees and a local attorney, it was determined that the Montana Constitution prohibits public schools from endorsing religion.

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Specifically pointing to Article X, Section 7, he said that if the school sponsored the group, it would be considered “excessive [government] entanglement in recognizing a religious group.”

“No religious or partisan test or qualification shall be required of any teacher or student as a condition of admission into any public educational institution. Attendance shall not be required at any religious service. No sectarian tenets shall be advocated in any public educational institution of the state,” the section reads. “No person shall be refused admission to any public educational institution on account of sex, race, creed, religion, political beliefs, or national origin.”

However, ADF believes that the district is wrongly interpreting the statute and is engaged in unlawful discrimination.

“By de-recognizing FCA because of its religious beliefs, BHS has … violated BHS FCA’s rights both under the Equal Access Act and the First Amendment,” it wrote in its correspondence on Dec. 11. “The Equal Access Act makes it unlawful for BHS ‘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.'”

ADF also pointed to the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, which “rejected the argument that granting official status to a religious club violates the Establishment Clause.”

Other clubs at Bozeman High School, which are granted official status by the school, include the Environmental Awareness Club, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, the Human Rights Club, the Project X2+ feminist club, and the Leo club.

Read the letter in full here.

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