(Seattle, WA) â€“ The American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm, said today a decision by a federal appeals court that a Washington State school district discriminated against a Bible club is a critical ruling that reinforces existing Supreme Court law and is a victory for those students who want to express a religious message in school.
â€œThe appeals court clearly understood that it is not permissible for a school district to discriminate in the way it treats a religious club on campus,â€ said Stuart J. Roth, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ, which represents a former student in the suit. â€œThe decision reinforces a very strong finding from the U.S. Supreme Court: thereâ€™s a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect. This is an important victory for the First Amendment and makes it clear that school districts cannot discriminate against religious clubs and religious messages.â€
In a decision issued late yesterday by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the court found that the Bethel School District violated the constitutional rights of the student who formed the Bible club by refusing to give the organization the same status and benefits granted to other school groups.
The case began in 1998 when the ACLJ filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Tausha Prince, then a 10th grade student at Spanaway Lake High School in Spanaway, Washington after school officials refused to recognize a request to form World Changers â€“ a student-led, student-initiated Bible club, saying the club could not be recognized because it was â€œreligious.â€ That meant that the club did not have access to benefits given to other student groups â€“ including the schoolâ€™s public address system. While refusing to recognize the Bible club, the school district permitted other student groups to meet including the Chess Club, Heritage Club, Bowling Club and Hiking Club.
In April 1999, a federal judge ruled in favor of the school district and the case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In a decision released late yesterday, a three judge panel of the federal appeals court ruled the school districted violated the Equal Access Act of 1984 and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.