Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

High school outcasts

Religious Liberty | Student clubs feel the pinch of political correctness
by Steve West
Posted 11/26/19, 02:25 pm

An increasing number of public school districts across the country are giving the boot to faith-based, pro-life, and politically conservative student groups. The administration at Bozeman High School in Montana told students last week that their local Fellowship of Christian Athletes club had lost approval because it holds a Biblical view of marriage that some students consider noninclusive. School officials told FCA student leaders they could no longer announce their meetings over the school intercom or post flyers without a yellow “seal of disapproval”—a statement that the school does not endorse their activities.

Four female students earlier this year complained to school administrators that FCA’s views on sexuality might make some of their classmates feel excluded. Those students also spoke at a meeting earlier this month when the Bozeman school board decided the club does not meet the district’s policy on inclusiveness. The board gave the club two options: disassociate from the national organization, change their name and follow the school district’s policy on inclusion or remain with FCA but no longer be recognized as a school club.

“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 Superintendent Bob Connors told KTVM-TV in Butte, Mont. “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 student leaders met with Bozeman Principal Dan Mills on Nov. 18 to discuss their concerns that the board decision violated their First Amendment rights. Mills said he would consider what they said and get back to them. On Thursday, a staff member from FCA met with Mills, who told him the district barred the club because of a provision of the Montana Constitution that says, “No sectarian tenets shall be advocated in any public educational institution of the state,” according to Bob Veroulis, FCA’s state director. He said he is seeking legal advice about how to move forward.

“For sixty-five years, everyone has been welcome to an FCA huddle or event,” Veroulis said, adding that now FCA-involved students are hearing rumors they are “gay-haters.”

Across the country in Naples, Fla., officials with the Collier County Public Schools declined to officially recognize a national Students for Life affiliate, Sharks 4 Life. Gulf Coast High School student Gabrielle Gabbard applied for recognition of the pro-life club in August. The assistant principal rejected the application, but the threat of a lawsuit appears to have turned the school district around, said Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Michael Ross, who represents Gabbard.

Ross said ADF is seeing school districts make these types of decisions with increasing regularity across the country. Provisions such as that in the Montana Constitution, called “Blaine Amendments,” date to the post–Civil War era and represent a form of bias rooted in anti-Catholic animus. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of Montana’s Blaine Amendment in a case challenging the state’s provision of tax credits to families whose children attend private schools.

“We are seeing increasing hostility toward both mainstream and conservative religious viewpoints across campuses,” Ross said. “Part of it is probably the broader cultural movement; another, that they are downstream of universities that are becoming increasingly radical and close-minded toward differing viewpoints.”

In Montana, Veroulis is still hopeful: “God’s in charge of this. We don’t have any ill-will toward anybody. We pray for all of them. We’re just asking for equal access.”

Alliance Defending Freedom Alliance Defending Freedom Chelsey Nelson (right) at a wedding photo shoot

Creative Christians wait on Supreme Court

Photographer, editor, and blogger Chelsey Nelson of Louisville, Ky., has joined other wedding professionals defending their religious beliefs in court against nondiscrimination laws.

Nelson’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 19, asks the court to preempt Louisville’s anti-discrimination law and declare it unconstitutional. The law would make it illegal for Nelson to decline to photograph a same-sex wedding because of her Biblical beliefs about marriage. It would also not allow her to explain her religious views on marriage to potential clients on her website.

“It’s unlawful to coerce an artist to create messages against her will and intimidate her into silence just because the city disagrees with her beliefs,” ADF senior counsel Jonathan Scruggs said.

The Kentucky Supreme Court recently upheld the right of Lexington, Ky., printer Blaine Adamson to decline to print T-shirts with messages contrary to his religious convictions. But it dodged the constitutional question by ruling on a technicality. A favorable ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court protecting wedding invitation designers and a decision from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shielding wedding videographers have more directly addressed the First Amendment problems posed by broad anti-discrimination laws.

Floral designer Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., has appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time after the Washington state Supreme Court reaffirmed a previous ruling against her. Seventeen states, 43 members of Congress, and a diverse number of legal experts and religious groups have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in her favor. —S.W.

Becket Becket The launch event for the Religious Freedom Index

Tracking religious liberty

Becket last week announced positive results from its first Religious Freedom Index poll.

The religious liberty law firm’s survey of 1,000 U.S. adults measures their views of six dimensions of religious liberty: religious pluralism, religion and policy, religious sharing, religion in society, church and state, and religion in action.

Key findings: 68 percent of Americans strongly support religious freedom, even if it means allowing offensive or discriminatory views, and 80 percent of respondents supported the basic right to hold beliefs about God, adhere to a religion, and live out the basic tenets of that religion in daily life. Questions about interactions between church and state divided the respondents more, but 58 percent still agreed that the government can use religious symbols or language in public displays.

“We are eager to contribute a new tool for understanding Americans’ sentiments towards our first freedom,” said Mark Rienzi, president and senior counsel at Becket. “Over time, we hope the Religious Freedom Index will become an essential resource to anyone who studies attitudes about religion and religious freedom in America.” —S.W.

Facebook/St. Vincent Catholic Charities Facebook/St. Vincent Catholic Charities A St. Vincent’s worker at a public event

Still serving

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision requiring the state of Michigan to continue working with St. Vincent Catholic Charities to place children in foster and adoptive families. That means the agency can follow Catholic teachings on marriage in selecting families while its lawsuit against the state continues in court.

In an order issued in September, the U.S. District Court in Lansing, Mich., directed the state to maintain its relationship with St. Vincent, finding, “The state’s real goal is not to promote non-discriminatory child placements, but to stamp out St. Vincent’s religious belief and replace it with the State’s own.” —S.W.

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Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.

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  • Rich277
    Posted: Tue, 11/26/2019 05:25 pm

    Leave it to a government school to promote inclusiveness by excluding a whole group of students.  Would the correct term for people who use puritanical methods to promote impurity be "ImPuritans?"

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Tue, 11/26/2019 10:47 pm

    They are inclusive as long as you agree with their world view - otherwise you get the boot! 

  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Wed, 11/27/2019 08:13 am

    It is unclear to me what "inclusiveness" means. What kinds of clubs do they have at Bozeman High School? What does it mean that "No sectarian tenets shall be advocated in any public institution"? I understand sectarian, but what does "advocated in" mean? Does that mean in a public school building? If so, it would cover far more than clubs. What students say would be constrained, not only in a class room setting, but even in the hall or lunch room. Is any politicaly oriented club forbidden? After all, by its very intention not everyone is included. They might even want to exclude certain political views. It seems that Bozeman is violating the Federal Equal Access Act (1984) and could lose any Federal funding. 

  • TWH
    Posted: Wed, 11/27/2019 10:20 am

    "Becket last week announced positive results from its first Religious Freedom Index poll."

    I clicked on the survey, and Becket definitely presents the results in a positive light, but one doesn't need to look very far into the survey to become concerned.

    "80 percent of respondents supported the basic right to hold beliefs about God, adhere to a religion, and live out the basic tenets of that religion in daily life"

    This means one in five Americans DON'T support these rights! 

    Looking at the study in detail makes me feel worse instead of better. Respondents were asked, "Do you personally accept and support versus challenge and oppose the freedom for any individual or group to believe that marriage is the union of a man and woman without...facing discrimination...from government?" 

    A total of 26% somewhat or heavily opposed the right to BELIEVE this, and there is nothing in the trends of our culture to cause us to think that this will do anything but increase!

    Even China hasn't gone this far . . . yet. Technology may be coming that would allow such a prohibition to be enforced. God is in charge, but we need to go into the coming years with our eyes wide open. 




  • CJ
    Posted: Wed, 11/27/2019 11:44 am

    Marking the FCA's flyers with a yellow seal of disapproval may actually attract members since teens tend to be anti-authoritarian. 

  •  John Cogan's picture
    John Cogan
    Posted: Wed, 11/27/2019 10:39 pm

    The left is unable to recognize its own statements as being self-refuting. Bozeman Superintendent Connor said, "... it’s not the school district’s place to judge one way or the other, because right or wrong isn’t the issue,” 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." Aren't they saying it's wrong not to be inclusive? Then right and wrong is the issue, isn't it? 

  • TWH
    Posted: Thu, 11/28/2019 09:14 am

    Good catch. When you're as sure you are "right" as he is, you just create a word salad to get people to stop questioning you.