A New York school district violated both the U.S. Constitution and federal law when it repeatedly denied a freshman student the right to form a Christian club at her high school, according to a religious liberty legal group.
First Liberty Institute is representing Ketcham High School freshman Daniela Barca, who says she was denied by the principal and the district’s assistant superintendent the right to form an officially recognized Christian club – even though the high school has multiple clubs, including the Pride Club (GSA) and the Masque & Mime Society.
The principal allegedly told her such a religious club would be “seen as exclusive.” The school is located in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
“I am a Christian. But sometimes it seems like I’m the only one,” Barca wrote in a September letter to the assistant superintendent. “I want to start this club for other students like me so we can support each other in our beliefs. The school district celebrates diversity and the right to express who you are. All I want is to be allowed to express who I am. Everyone deserves as much. Please get back to me as soon as you can.”
After multiple requests were denied – including one from her father to a district official – Liberty Legal Institute sent a letter to the district Dec. 11, saying it was in violation of the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Act. Barca had been trying for more than four months.
The Equal Access Act prevents schools from receiving federal funding if they deny students the right to conduct meetings because of the “religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.” The letter cites a Supreme Court decision, Board of Education v. Mergens (1990), which said a school that allows one “noncurriculum related student group” may not “deny other clubs” on the basis of their content.
Superintendent Jose Carrion told Fox News that the district “recognizes the rights of student-initiated, non-curricular groups to organize and meet in accordance with the Equal Access Act. We fully anticipate this matter will be resolved as per the Equal Access Act.”
In a press release, Keisha Russell of First Liberty Institute said school officials had “engaged in purposeful, intentional religious discrimination against Daniela for months.”
“We hope this school district ends its clearly unlawful behavior and protects the religious liberty of every student in all its schools,” Russell said.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.