A Christian club in a Los Angeles-area high school was recently given equal access to use school facilities after it had originally been discriminated against by school officials.
Named the Christian Club, the group will now be able to hold its gospel concert inside the school's auditorium like the other student organizations in the school.
"There is a great deal of uncertainty and misunderstanding in public education with regard to the Equal Access rights of religious student clubs," explained Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), the legal group that aided the club, in a statement. "We applaud this particular administration for quickly and readily bringing their policies in to compliance with federal law, and hope that other schools will take the time to review their own policies to ensure that none of them unfairly discriminate against student religious clubs."
Problems arose when the Christian Club went to school administration to reserve the school auditorium for its upcoming gospel concert. School officials denied the facilities, however, thinking that they were upholding the "separation of church and state."
Since other clubs within the school had already been allowed to use the auditorium for their own events during off-school hours, the Christian Club's sponsor, Cynthia Fletcher, contacted PJI, which specializes in defending religious freedom, to see if the school was infringing on their rights.
PJI representatives then sent a legal opinion letter to the high school principal explaining that the school's policy was violating the club's Equal Access rights. Under the Equal Access Act, federal law orders that secondary schools that allow non-curriculum related clubs to meet on their premises must also allow Christian or other religious groups as well. In addition, these religious groups must receive the same rights and privileges that are given to non-religious extracurriculars.
According to PJI attorneys on Thursday, school heads reversed their decision after receiving the letter and allowed the Christian Club to use the auditorium since it had granted other groups the same benefit.
"We are glad to see more and more schools complying with this law and allowing Christian clubs to form on their campuses," said attorney Karen Milam, director of PJI's southern California office, in a statement.
But she noted, that "allowing these clubs just to meet, but unfairly restricting their rights in areas where other clubs are not limited such as posters or fund-raising, still violates Equal Access requirements.