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.”