I’m always impressed by the courage of high school students who choose to stand-up for their faith in schools, especially in today’s culture, where Lady Gaga and Katy Perry now serve as “role models” for teenagers. Even more impressive are those students who form Christian clubs at school. These students should be applauded for their leadership, their organizational abilities, their passion, and their involvement. The Christian clubs they form are often heavily involved in campus life—sponsoring activities, performing community service, and serving as true role models for students, rather than counterfeit ones like Lady Gaga.
So it is troubling when a school district imposes barriers and restrictions on such clubs rather than encouraging these students in their pursuits.
That is exactly what happened just a few weeks ago at Newington High School when a group of students sought to form a Christian club. In their meeting with the principal, they were told that they could form a “theology club” that discusses all religious beliefs equally, but not a Christian club. They were told the club had to be more “open” to other religious faiths—even though the students had emphasized to the principal that any student of any faith was welcome to attend the Christian club meetings. And the school wasn’t afraid to enforce such “openness” as it had done several years prior when a previous Christian club was forced to merge with a group of Muslim students to become an “Interfaith Club”—thus being stripped of its Christian identity and ultimately resulting in the demise of the club.
But this mandatory watering down of students’ faith in the name of “openness” is not only political correctness run amok, it is illegal. Under the Equal Access Act, a federal law that requires schools to give the same recognition and treatment to religious student clubs that it gives to other non-curriculum student clubs, schools may not “influence the form or content of any prayer or other religious activity.” That means school officials can’t tell a club that it must discuss all faiths equally at its meetings.
So ADF contacted the school, warning it that the students “cannot be forced to alter the nature, identity, or beliefs of their Christian club by the school district or its employees.” And I’m happy to report that the school district responded appropriately, informing the students that their Christian club—not some watered-down theology club—would be approved.
The moral of the story: student clubs have the right to define their own beliefs and identity without interference from school officials. If you or someone you know is experiencing such interference, don’t be afraid to stand up. Because ADF will stand with you to ensure that you are never forced to water-down your faith.