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New York school district reverses decision to reject student's Christian club

New York school district reverses decision to reject student's Christian club

Joshue Hoehne Unsplash.com

A public school district in New York will allow a freshman student to form a Christian club after school officials refused her request for months, a national legal group reports.

The nonprofit representing freshman student Daniela Barca has announced that officials at Wappingers Central School district have reversed a decision that had blocked Barca from forming her “OMG! Christian Club” at Roy C. Ketcham High School this fall. 

According to First Liberty Institute, the largest legal organization in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom, final approval for Barca’s club should take place at a school board meeting in January. 

“I am so happy that school officials are going to allow us to start the club at school so we can support each other in our beliefs,” Barca said in a statement shared with The Christian Post.

First Liberty Institute lawyer Keisha Russell sent the school district a letter last Wednesday arguing that the school district officials ignored the Equal Access Act of 1984 by rejecting Barca’s attempt to start an exclusively Christian club. 

Barca’s intent is for the club to be a place of “faith-based support” and hold biweekly meetings where students could discuss things such as “living for God in a godless society.” She was even able to secure a staff sponsor for the club before the school year began.

After being stonewalled and rejected by an assistant principal, Barca and her father were allegedly told by an administrator that the school district could not support a religious club that is not “completely unbiased to any and all religions.” 

The EAA states, however, that it is unlawful for public secondary schools that receive federal assistance and offer limited open forums to “deny equal access or fair opportunity” to students wishing to conduct meetings to discuss “religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.”

In her Dec. 11 letter, Russell demanded that the school district allow Barca and her club to begin meeting in January 2020, saying that the school district was engaging in unlawful viewpoint discrimination. 

Last week, Superintendent Jose Carrion said that he anticipated that the school district would resolve the issue “per the Equal Access Act.” However, there was a little indication as to what that meant. 

As Russell’s letter demanded an answer from the school district by Dec. 18, she communicated with school officials at the end of last week and was pleased with the talks. 

“We are grateful to Wappingers Central school district officials for acting swiftly to ensure that religious students can freely exercise their right to meet together at school,” Russell said in a statement. “Daniela is thrilled she’ll be allowed to form a club so those who share her faith can express who they are and encourage each other.”

The Christian Post reached out to the school district for confirmation on the report that it plans to grant Barca’s request to start OMG! Christian Club. A response is pending. 

Ketcham High School recognizes over 20 student clubs, including the pro-LGBT Pride Club, Science Olympiad, Teen Club, Masque & Mime Society, Future Business Leaders of America and Math Team. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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