A federal judge in Pennsylvania has denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the State College Area School District (SCASD) and its board discriminated against religious parochial school students by barring them from extracurricular activities.
With the aid of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, the Religious Rights Foundation of Pennsylvania and parents of two parochial school students in Centre County filed the lawsuit in July.
The lawsuit claims the children had not been allowed to participate in co-curricular or extracurricular activities, even though such were open to homeschoolers and charter school students in accordance with the district's non-discrimination policy.
The suit alleges violations of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Chief Judge Matthew Brann of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued a memorandum on Dec. 1 asserting that the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution asserts that "regardless of what reasons some parents may have for sending their children to a non-public school, a religious reason has the same value as a secular reason."
"If some exemptions are made, a school’s refusal to make a religious one enforces a value judgment preferring secular conduct over religious conduct," Brann added. "Because the Plaintiffs have adequately alleged that the policy in this case runs afoul of that basic principle, the Defendants' motion to dismiss is denied."
Thomas More Society special counsel Thomas Breth said when the lawsuit was first filed that SCASD was justifying excluding parochial school students from extracurricular activities by claiming it would impinge on the opportunities of students attending district schools to participate.
“However, the board has consistently allowed home-school students and those attending charter schools to take part in the district’s more than 100 extracurricular activities and classes, including athletic teams and Advanced Placement courses,” Breth said in a statement.
“The school district has denied those same opportunities to students attending religious schools, based solely on their religious identity. That forces parochial school students to choose between their religious beliefs and the right to participate in extracurricular activities and advanced classes.”
Breth explained that similar cases have been brought before the Supreme Court in the past, which has ruled that denying students services based on religious affiliation is unconstitutional.
"The Supreme Court has made it clear that such denials can be justified only by a state interest of the highest order," Breth said. "That is certainly not the case in the State College Area School District."
"As we customarily do with pending litigation, we decline to comment," a spokesperson for SCASD told The Christian Post.
Jon Brown is a reporter for The Christian Post. Send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org