Elementary school accused of discrimination for rejecting creation of interfaith prayer club

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An elementary school in Washington state has been accused of discrimination for prohibiting the creation of an interfaith prayer student club while allowing a pride student group to meet on campus.

The First Liberty Institute (FLI) sent a complaint letter to the Board of Directors of Issaquah School District 411 on behalf of two students, identified as “L.A.W. and J.W.” earlier this month. 

At issue was a decision by Creekside Elementary School of Issaquah to reject an application for an interfaith prayer club, even though several other non-religious student clubs have been approved.  

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FLI Associate Counsel Kayla Toney, one of the two signatories of the complaint letter, told The Christian Post on Monday that her organization became aware of the situation shortly after the application was rejected.

“After L.A.W.’s prayer club was denied, her family reached out to a friend of ours in the religious liberty movement, and he connected them with us,” she said.

Toney also told CP she believes “public schools have often excluded religious activity because of a phantom fear of violating the Establishment Clause,” based on “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 an email to CP, Lesha Engels, a spokesperson for the Issaquah School District, said officials were in the process of responding to FLI's letter.

“Please know that we take our commitment to uphold student rights seriously; this includes those rights associated with religious exercise and liberty,” Engels said.

Engels noted that at Creekside Elementary, there is a schedule for approving student clubs, which is described as “a shared decision-making process between teachers and principals.”

A student club interest survey was conducted last October, with approval as well as budgeting and distribution of student group advisor time made in November.

“A handful of advisor-led clubs were requested after this process concluded in the winter of 2024; these requests were all denied,” she continued. “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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