The Rutherford Institute Declares Victory in Settlement Over Student Bible Club
May 8, 2001
TULSA, Okla. – Rutherford Institute affiliate attorneys have settled a lawsuit brought on behalf of two students and one teacher who were denied their constitutional rights to form an extracurricular Bible club at McLain High School Career Academy. The lawsuit charges that McLain school officials violated the studentsâ€™ and teacherâ€™s First Amendment rights of free speech, freedom of association, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of religion as well as their Fourteenth Amendment right of equal protection, and the Federal Equal Access Act.
During the 1998-1999 school year, Troy Bell, a teacher at McLain, requested permission from Travis Henderson, principal of McLain High School, to meet for prayer with other staff before school each morning. Even though other faculty and staff were allowed to meet for other purposes, Henderson refused to allow Bell to meet for prayer. Similarly, during the 1999-2000 school year Henderson prohibited the organization of a student-led Bible club to meet or advertise during non-instructional time. Two student petitions were presented to the school principal asking him to allow the Bible club to meet; both petitions were ignored. Bell repeatedly tried to intervene on behalf of the students. On one occasion, Bell tried to inform Henderson in writing of the studentsâ€™ right to form a Bible club under the Equal Access Act. However, Henderson responded by throwing the letter in the trash. The suit alleged that in retaliation for his interest in religious matters, Henderson refused to renew Bellâ€™s contract for the 2000 school year.
In the settlement, Tulsa County school authorities agreed to provide a training presentation for all operations personnel for the next two years on studentsâ€™ rights of free speech and religious expression. Administrators also agreed to attach an insert into every student handbook that explains a studentâ€™s right to form either a religious or non-religious extracurricular club, and distribute pamphlets to every teacher regarding the Equal Access Act. This act mandates equal treatment for all student-led extracurricular groups or clubs, including Bible clubs. School officials also agreed to compensate Bell for lost wages and to pay attorneysâ€™ fees and costs incurred in bringing the suit.
“School officials can no longer hide their heads in the sand when it comes to recognizing the rights of teachers and students on campus,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Federal law requires accommodation of religious school employeesâ€™ beliefs and equal access to school facilities for religious students who wish to meet together.”
The Rutherford Institute is an international nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.
Rutherford Institute. Used with Permission.