OAN’s James Meyers
4:29 PM – Friday, September 15, 2023
The largest United States federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ (FCA) student clubs will be reinstated at a public school district in San Jose, California.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 9-2 in favor of the district violating the FCA’s right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment stating, “counsel’s mutual respect and tolerance for religious and non-religious views alike.”
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the FCA and similar religious clubs do not have to give up their faith to have equal access to campus.
This comes after the school district claimed the Christian club allegedly discriminated against LGBTQ students with its restrictions on who could serve as club leaders.
According to the Ninth Circuit, the school district had used a discriminatory “double standard” against FCA by failing to “treat FCA like comparable secular groups” and instead “penalized it based on its religious beliefs.”
Additionally, the court said that since a women’s club has all-female members and an honors club set standards for members of “good moral character,” it also “makes equal sense that a religious group be allowed to require that its leaders agree with the group’s most fundamental beliefs.”
The school district commented on the ruling, saying they were “disappointed” in the decision, but it “respects the judicial system and its essential role in our democracy.”
“We are reviewing the court’s opinion, assessing options, and considering next steps,” the statement continued. “The most important consideration will be how to continue to implement San José Unified’s long-standing policy against discrimination in district programs and activities.”
FCA groups faced harassment and protests “simply because the clubs asked their student leaders to agree with their faith,” according to a press release from the Becket Fund, which represents FCA, along with the Christian Legal Society and Christopher Schweickert of Seto Wood & Schweickert LLP.
“FCA is excited to be able to get back to serving our campuses,” Rigo Lopez, the local FCA leader for Bay Area schools, said in a statement. “Our FCA teams have long enjoyed strong relationships with teachers and students in the past, and we are looking forward to that again.” A lower court previously sided with the school district, but FCA appealed and won before the school district again asked the appeals court to hear the case. Wednesday’s ruling was decided by a panel of 11 federal judges, in a process called an “en banc” rehearing.
“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,” Daniel Blomberg, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement. “Today’s ruling ensures religious students are again treated fairly in San Jose and throughout California.”
“Public schools should respect every student’s religious beliefs and treat every student with dignity,” Steve McFarland, director of the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom, said in a statement. “We are grateful the court has reaffirmed this foundational right of every student.”
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