Students with a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club in Montana are examining their legal options after being given an ultimatum by the school district to disaffiliate with the national organization over its beliefs on sexuality.
Following complaints made last spring by female students at Bozeman High School about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' stated beliefs on sexuality, Bozeman Public Schools has reportedly told students in the local club that it would have to disaffiliate with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or no longer be officially recognized by the school district as an on-campus group, as reported by NBC Montana.
If the group wants to keep its status as an official campus group, it would have to change its name and follow the school district’s policy on inclusion.
In 2008, the school district voted to add “sexual orientation” to its anti-discrimination policy, as reported by The Bozeman Daily Chronicle at the time.
"Young adulthood is a time when you have a lot of questions about yourself, and it's not the school district's place to judge one way or the other, because right or wrong isn't the issue," Bozeman Schools Superintendent Bob Connors was quoted as saying.
"We want to make sure it's an inclusive place where every student is treated the same and has the same access to any club or activity, and so the inclusion factor is very important to us.”
FCA is celebrating its 65th anniversary as a sports ministry. It has groups present in high schools and colleges across the country. It also runs sports camps. In Montana, there are at least 30 FCA “Huddle” groups that provide opportunities for athletes and coaches to study and worship.
Montana FCA Director Bob Veroulis assured that FCA does not discriminate and that all students are welcome to attend events.
He told The Christian Post Tuesday that the Bozeman FCA students are not caving under the pressure put on them by the school district and feel the district’s ultimatum is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
“The kids have done research and found some stuff from the National Board of Education talking about students' First Amendment rights,” Veroulis said. “They are going in to discuss with the principal how they feel their First Amendment rights are being violated by this ultimatum.”
A meeting between the FCA students and the Bozeman High Principal Dan Mills is slated to take place this week, according to Veroulis.
“They are going to present their case with some documentation and show it to the principal and just see where the administration and school board feels in light of the board of education’s information concerning First Amendment rights,” he explained.
“If the school board and principal and administration are unwilling to change their ultimatum, then we have lawyers with Alliance Defending Freedom that will come on behalf of the kids.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is a nonprofit law firm that works to protect First Amendment rights. The organization has won several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The kids wanted to stand firm,” Veroulis said. “They are just trying to defend the rights that they have and defend the rights of any kids that are going to come after them and any kids that are currently involved in FCA Huddles around the state and around the United States.”
Trouble for the Bozeman High FCA group began last school year when the group of female students objected to FCA’s sexual purity pledge that expects adult leaders to abstain from sex before marriage and not engage in homosexual relations.
According to FCA’s statement of faith, the organization believes that God’s design for sexual intimacy is to be “expressed only within the context of marriage.” The organization defines marriage as being a union between only one man and one woman.
The girls (Maggie Callow, Katherine Callow, Esmie Hurd and Kate Bick) feared that FCA’s statement of faith would be used to discriminate against students at the school.
Although the group of girls brought their concerns about FCA’s statement of faith last spring, it wasn’t until last Monday that they voiced these concerns at a school board meeting.
"Not that any of us have a problem with a Christian athletes club on campus — we all think it's a good idea for kids to meet on those grounds — just their connection to the national organization was something that concerned us," Hurd was quoted as saying.
The school board referred the FCA complaint to the Montana Association of School Boards. Although the district found that the FCA club did not engage in any concrete form of discrimination against anyone at the school, the district was advised that the “FCA’s national mission statement does violate the Bozeman School District’s discrimination policy.”
Veroulis said that an average of about 25-30 students attend FCA at Bozeman High each week. After the controversy hit, he said, 48 students participated.