Christian Club Wins Appeal For Equal Treatment

The San Jose School District will be required to reinstate Fellowship of Christian Athletes clubs on campuses following a ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals. In their ruling on September 13, the court voted to overturn a lower court ruling that allowed the district to shut down the club which does not allow LGBT individuals to be club leaders. The Appeals Court ruling affirms that students should not have to suspend their religious beliefs to have equal access to public school campuses.

The issue arose in 2019 after the district derecognized FCA, a national Christian club that supports student-athletes on and off the field. The club was forced off campus due to the protests of one teacher who used class time to attack the club, and then sent emails to the campus principal that are described in the court record as “vulgar.” In response, the campus determined that the club’s policy of requiring leaders to uphold religious beliefs amounted to discrimination and sexual harassment.

The district argued that the exclusion of non-religious individuals, specifically non-religious LGBT students, violated the rights of other students. The club argued that other clubs are permitted to select leaders based on protected criteria. For example, Honor’s Society clubs can exclude students with poor grades and women’s sports clubs can exclude men. The club requested that a federal court force the San Jose School District to allow FCA to be reinstated.

In August 2022, the court ruled that the district must allow FCA on campus and that Christian students have the same rights as non-religious students. The court ordered the district to reinstate the club.

Instead, the district chose a more radical action and simply eliminated all student clubs, then requested that the Appeals court take another look at the case in an effort to eliminate Christian clubs while allowing other clubs, including a Satanic Temple Club established solely for the purpose of protesting FCA. The court agreed to rehear the case.

The latest ruling determined that the district violated the rights of students by specifically targeting them over religious beliefs while not treating similar groups in the same way, what the court described as a “double-standard.” As a result, the courts found that the district did not have the right to eliminate the club from campus.

The student club was represented by the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty and the Christian Legal Society. Vice President and Senior Counsel Daniel Bloomberg said in a statement following the ruling that it was a “huge win for these brave students.” The ruling not only applies to anti-Christian discrimination in Bay Area schools but also protects the rights of religious students throughout the state, regardless of the nature of their beliefs.

It is unlikely that the district will have the ability to continue appealing the decision. In a statement, the district noted that it was “disappointed” in the ruling that prevents educators from discriminating against Christians.