A high school in North Carolina has decided to allow students to form a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance after initially refusing to do so. In the past few weeks, the school's district has received letters from the SSA, Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union encouraging them to allow the club.
Pisgah High School in Canton, N.C., reportedly met with student Kalei Wilson this week, granting her permission to start a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance.
"We are thrilled to see this victory for Kalei and all of the students at Pisgah High School!" August E. Brunsman IV, executive director of the SSA, said in a statement. "We fight everyday to ensure students' rights aren't infringed upon, and are pleased with this response from Haywood County Schools."
"The Secular Student Alliance plans to keep a close watch on Pisgah High School to ensure Kalei and her fellow students can build her community without any further violations of their rights. We are certain the administration will do the right thing and follow the law when it comes to students building communities," a press release from the SSA adds.
Wilson reportedly tried forming the secular club at her high school in October, but was repeatedly denied by the school administration who told her the club was "not a good fit" for the school. The student then contacted the Secular Student Alliance. After attempts by the SSA to contact school officials were reportedly ignored, the national organization contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU, which also applied pressure to school administrators to allow the secular club.
The atheist groups argued in their letters to Haywood County School administrators that by prohibiting Wilson to form a chapter of the SSA, they were violating the Equal Access Act that requires schools receiving federal funds to allow student-led clubs regardless of religious, philosophical, or political affiliation. The school already had over 30 student groups, including a religious one.
Wilson, who pushed the local SSA chapter at Pisgah with the help of her brother Ben, told the New York Daily News that she wanted to form the club to give like-minded, secular students a place to discuss their beliefs and socialize. "It's not fair to people like me who don't have a place to go to meet like-minded thinkers," Wilson told the media outlet last week. "We just wanted to prove that we can be good without God."
"We are not bad people," Kalei said. "We deserve to be treated the same as everyone else."
According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the principal of Pisgah High School reportedly assured Kalei when he met with her Monday that two teachers had come forward to sponsor her SSA club, and that officials would be looking into alleged threats that Kalei would be bullied for her atheist activism.
"The principal assured her that he will look into the threats made and gave 'go ahead for the club,'" Kalei's father, Cash Wilson, told the FFRF.
Additionally, the FFRF announced Monday that it will be rewarding both Kalei and her brother Ben with $1,000 scholarships for their efforts through the Clifford Richards Memorial Student Activist Award.
Neither Pisgah High School nor its Haywood County School District have addressed the issue of the local SSA chapter with media outlets.