Mont. High School Reinstates Official Status of Christian Club Denied Over Church-State Concerns

BOZEMAN, Mont. — A high school in Montana has reinstated the official status of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) student group after initially revoking it out of Church-State separation concerns. A letter from a nationally-recognized religious liberties organization seemingly helped the school to change its mind.

“The First Amendment doesn’t permit a public school to play favorites when approving student organizations,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a statement.

As previously reportedaccording to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Bozeman High School officials revoked the group’s status, which had been granted for the past five years, 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.”

In November 2019, officials at the high school met with representatives of FCA and decided to no longer grant official status. The revocation meant that FCA could not make announcements regarding activities over the loudspeaker like other groups, and any promotional flyers would be required to 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.

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.”

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“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 sent a letter to the school, contending that the revocation of FCA’s status violates the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Act.

“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,’” it read.

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.”

Read the letter here.

On Tuesday, the religious liberties legal group announced that Bozeman High School had changed its policy and reinstated FCA’s non-curricular club official recognition.

“We commend Bozeman High School for correcting its error and restoring rightful status to BHS Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” Langhofer said. “Students have the constitutionally protected freedom to organize around their shared beliefs.”

Other clubs that had been 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.

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