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Policy discriminating against Bible clubs challenged

The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether school officials at Kentridge High School near Seattle can circumvent the requirements of the Equal Access Act by denying religious student groups the rights afforded other organizations.

The appeal has been submitted by the Alliance Defense Fund in a case that began in 2001 when school officials refused to grant recognition to the Truth Bible Club, because the club proposed that members must share a belief in the Bible.

"Christian student groups shouldn't be penalized for their beliefs," said Nate Kellum, a senior counsel for the ADF. "Excluding a club simply because its members are religious is a clear violation of their First Amendment rights and the Equal Access Act.

"For close to a decade, school officials have stonewalled this group that only wants to have the same benefits and privileges as any other student-led group. We hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will bring an end to this discrimination once and for all," he said.

The members of the Truth Bible Club wish to limit the club's voting membership to Christians, but because of the faith-based decision, Kentridge officials repeatedly have rejected the application, citing the school's "nondiscrimination" policy.

Officials also said the name of the club is "offensive."

However, the school has recognized other non-curriculum-related clubs whose members hold particular beliefs, the ADF noted.

Students Sarice Undis and Julianne Stewart submitted a club charter application in September 2001, but school officials put them off, telling them to apply again in 2003. Multiple denials were issue because of the club's "membership policies."

A ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the school's decision to treat a religious club differently from other student organizations, the ADF said.

WND reported as part of the long-running case, the ACLU, which argued the Equal Access Act demanded recognition of a student homosexual group, suddenly reversed its position when the precedent could have been cited in support of the Bible club.

The ADF had noted that in the case Prince v. Jacoby, the 9th Circuit held that denying official sponsorship of a club violates the Equal Access Act. ADF pointed out that in 2003, shortly after Prince v. Jacoby was decided, the ACLU sent an information letter to school officials in Washington state explaining the case "makes it clear that student clubs promoting tolerance for gay students are entitled to the same resources as other clubs."

But in the Bible club case, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief that took the opposite position.

"This goes to show how far the ACLU will manipulate the legal system to further their radical agenda," said the ADF's Tim Chandler, a litigation specialist working on the case, at the time.

The 9th Circuit ruling concluded other student clubs may require members to share the clubs' beliefs but held that Christian clubs are not allowed to do the same.

Chandler called that the first federal appellate court ruling allowing high schools to specifically target Bible clubs for exclusion from their campuses.

For the Supreme Court, the ADF said the question is, "Did the 9th Circuit err in holding, in conflict with decisions of this Court and the 2nd Circuit, that schools could circumvent the basic protections of the Equal Access Act by excluding religious groups?"

The controlling law is clear, the ADF said.

"The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,'" the ADF said.

The Kentridge campus promotes non-curriculum clubs including the Gay-Straight Alliance, Girl's Honor, Men's Honor, Key Club, Multicultural Student Union, Future Business Leaders of America, National Honor Society, Snowriders and Earth Corps, the petition said.

Although meetings would be open to all, Bible club organizers want voting members and leaders to sign a statement of faith, stating their belief "the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God."

The Key Club already required members to be "interested in service, qualified scholastically, of good character, possession leadership potential." Earth Corps requires members to have an "interest and dedication toward environmental issues." And the Gay-Straight Alliance demands members "must be willing to work toward the goals of the club," including "working to decrease homophobia," the petition notes.

The ADF said the Equal Access Act specifically makes it "unlawful for any public secondary school which receives federal financial assistance and which has a limited open forum 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."

The 9th Circuit said the measure included an exemption for school districts to discriminate against religious student organizations, the ADF said.

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