School Sued for Banishing Bible Club

Jan 08, 2003 12:37 PM EST

A legal defense organization has filed suit against a Colorado school district because school officials allowed students to form a homosexual-related group but have disallowed the formation of a Bible club.

"This is a clear case of a school district discriminating against students who want to form a club based on their religious beliefs," said Stuart J. Roth, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a Virginia Beach, Va.-based firm that handles religious discrimination cases.

In its suit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Denver, the ACLJ said the school is limiting the recognition of student organizations to those that "directly relate to the regular curriculum and the educational goals of the school district."

"The law is very clear on this issue," Roth said. "If a school district permits other student organizations on campus, it cannot legally deny students the opportunity to meet because their message is religious."

The suit was filed on behalf of a pair of students of Monarch High School in Louisville, Colo.: senior Ashley Thiele, leader of the group wishing to form the Bible club, and freshman Amy Duvall, a member of the group.

Roth said the school allowed the formation of a group called the Gay/Straight Alliance Club, but won't allow a Bible discussion group. The suit also contends that the school district permitted other student groups to form, including the Multicultural Club, Peace Jam and Amnesty International.

According to the suit, Thiele requested permission to form her club in September 2002. Roth and ACLJ said the formation of such a club is directly related to the school's curriculum by serving as an extension to courses that deal with the Bible in history, literature and philosophy.

But school officials declined her request, saying the Bible club was not related to school curriculum. Furthermore, Roth said school administrators defended their decision to allow the homosexual-related club to form because it is "directly linked [to] the curricula of health classes. …"

"This is clearly discriminatory behavior that violates the constitutional rights of our clients," Roth said. "We're confident the court will correct this injustice."

The suit says the school district has violated the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Equal Access Act of 1984 – a law that requires school districts to either allow all extracurricular clubs or none at all.

The law was initially passed because Congress was concerned school districts were banning religious clubs because they didn't want to be seen as endorsing particular faiths.

Some of the law's strongest supporters now are backing off somewhat as groups like the Gay/Straight Alliance fight for similar rights, the Houston Chronicle reported last week.

"These were the very people who pushed for the national legislation that opened the access for meetings of school clubs on school grounds," said Will Harrell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. "They made their bed. They need to lie in it."

The issue of whether public schools must allow "gay rights" clubs to meet first arose in 1995, when students at East High School in Salt Lake City were denied permission to form a Gay/Straight Alliance, the paper said.

Students cited the 1984 law, but the school board responded by voting 4-3 to ban all extracurricular clubs. Then in 2000, the board relented and voted to allow all clubs.

By Jon Dougherty