Elementary school will allow prayer club after pressure from legal group  

Getty Images/Jonathan Kirn
Getty Images/Jonathan Kirn

A Washington state public elementary school will allow an interfaith prayer club to meet after initially refusing a request by two students to start the organization.

Last month, Issaquah School District 411 garnered controversy when its Creekside Elementary School rejected an application for an interfaith prayer club while allowing an LGBT pride group.

The First Liberty Institute, which had sent a complaint letter on behalf of two students who wanted to start the club, announced Wednesday that the school district has changed course.

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“We are very pleased that the Issaquah School District is allowing our clients to start a prayer club at their school this spring,” said FLI Associate Counsel Kayla Toney.

“Schools should always respect the religious beliefs of their students. This is a victory for students of all faiths and a reminder that people of faith have a constitutional right to express their religious beliefs and pray, even in a public school setting.”

A spokesperson for the Issaquah School District told The Christian Post in an emailed statement that the decision was in regards to more than just the prayer club.

“In the spirit of receiving feedback and responding to our community, we offered a compromise allowing the student to establish an interfaith prayer club at Creekside for the remainder of the school year if a staff member volunteered to supervise the club,” read the statement.

“We are offering the same compromise to all other clubs that, like the interfaith prayer club, were similarly proposed outside the co-curricular process this year.”  

On April 9, the FLI sent the Issaquah School District Board of Directors a complaint letter on behalf of two students, identified in the correspondence as “L.A.W. and J.W.”

The letter addressed Creekside’s decision not to allow an interfaith prayer club to form, even though several other non-religious student clubs operated on campus.

Toney told CP last month that “public schools have often excluded religious activity because of a phantom fear of violating the Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment]” due to “misguided theories.”

“The Supreme Court held in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District that the long-criticized Lemon Test was officially overruled and must no longer be used to erase religion from public life, particularly in public schools,” Toney said.

“Even before Kennedy, the Supreme Court consistently upheld the long tradition of voluntary student-led religious activity in public schools. For example, in Good News Club v. Milford Central School in 2001, the Court found that a public school violated the First Amendment when it excluded a Christian club from an elementary school while allowing other non-curricular clubs.”

Toney noted that the tradition of allowing religious activity on public school property “means that L.A.W. and J.W. have a constitutionally protected right to start an interfaith prayer club, with the same recognition and benefits that other clubs enjoy.”

In response to the allegations, Issaquah School District spokesperson Lesha Engels said the club was one of multiple groups rejected because their applications were late.

Engels told CP in an earlier interview that Creekside Elementary had a schedule for approving student clubs, which included a student club interest survey last October and approval, budgeting, and distribution of student group advisor time in November.

“A handful of advisor-led clubs were requested after this process concluded in the winter of 2024; these requests were all denied,” Engels explained in April. “The interfaith prayer club was requested in February 2024, after the deadline shared above.”

“In response to an allegation of a First Amendment violation in April 2024, the district initiated an investigation, and will include feedback from the community and students in our process review.”

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