The members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at a Florida high school have filed suit (PDF) in federal district court, charging the Lake County School Board with denying the fellowship access to school-wide announcements, the yearbook, and virtually every other school publication or website, News-13 reports from Mount Dora, Fla.
Referring to promoting club activities over the daily announcements and on the school’s marquee, Steven Guschov, engagement director for the Liberty Counsel, was quoted as saying, “All other clubs are allowed to do this, but FCA is not allowed to do so at Mount Dora High School. That’s discrimination and that’s illegal.” The Liberty Counsel filed the lawsuit on FCA’s behalf, saying this type of access has been denied to FCA members for several years.
The Liberty Counsel, based in Orlando, Fla., is notorious for fighting against the legalization of same-sex marriage and against gay rights in general. The American Civil Liberties Union, which would likely deny any bias for or against any rights not guaranteed by the Constitution, has also filed a similar lawsuit against Lake County Public Schools, saying the district is denying a middle school student the right to form a gay-straight alliance club at Carver Middle School, also in the Lake County School District. This issue makes for strange bedfellows, doesn’t it?
Student groups in the district are broken up into three categories: curricular, co-curricular, and non-curricular. FCA falls into the last category, as does the gay-straight alliance. But school board policy doesn’t allow non-curricular student clubs at the middle school level. The ACLU is alleging that the board is using this rule to bar the gay-straight alliance at the middle school, a lesbian-gay-bisexual website reports, and for no other good reason.
The district has not commented on either lawsuit, either on its official website, in the media, or on the Mount Dora High School website.
In the FCA lawsuit, the club claims they have been denied rights guaranteed to all citizens—and which are granted to similar but non-religious clubs for students at Mount Dora High School—under the Free Speech Clause, Free Exercise Clause, and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment; and a few clauses of Florida’s state Constitution:
Defendants confer important rights and privileges upon similarly situated but non-religious student clubs, including: the ability to place announcements in the hallways and on the school’s marquee, the ability to place flyers in and outside of classrooms where clubs meet, the ability to present announcements over the school’s public address system, the ability to maintain a club webpage on the District’s website, the ability to wear a colored cord at graduation to signify club membership, free inclusion in the yearbook, and a paid faculty advisor. However, Defendants have continuously refused to grant these same benefits to Plaintiffs, on the sole basis that Plaintiffs’ FCA Club is religious.
From the FCA website: Since 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high, and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ. FCA focuses on serving local communities by equipping, empowering, and encouraging people to make a difference for Christ.