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The Federal Equal Access Act.
Student-led clubs in public high schools.

Three examples; one pro-LGBT, one faith based,
and one secular during the interval 2003 to 2014

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Sponsored link.


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Wisconsin: Conflict between conservative Christians & Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) students:

AgapePress, a conservative Christian news service, reported a conflict in the Evansville High School in Evansville, in south-central Wisconsin, some twenty miles south of the state capitol, Madison. Presumably using the Equal Access law, students had formed a Gay Straight Alliance Club in the school. They held a "Day of Silence" presumably on the National Day of Silence held in over on 2003-APR-9. AgapePress is a little skimpy on details. 6

According to the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN):

"Founded in 1996, the Day of Silence Project has become the largest single student-led national action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression." 7

Students who support equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations in over 1,900 middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities across the U.S.  Participating students do not speak during this day. Some hand out "speaking cards" stating:

"I am participating in the 'Day of Silence,' a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice and discrimination." 6

According to AgapePress:

"The club was permitted to advertise the event through posters, literature, and on the school intercom."

This, of course, is required by the Equal Access Act.  

AgapePress continued:

"The school even provided them with a 'safe room' to sit in if they felt they were being harassed during the day."

It is fairly common for the verbal and physical harassment of homosexual and bisexual students -- and their supporters -- to reach a peak on this day. In response to the Day of Silence a group of Christian students -- presumably conservative Christians -- prayed and shared Bible verses in the school commons during classroom time. They were given unexcused absences, despite having permission slips from their parents, because they had skipped class. One of those Christian students, Justin Wallestad, expressed his disappointed that an entire day at his school was dedicated to promoting the acceptance of homosexuality, while past events organized by Christian students had been restricted. He said:

"In the past they [presumably the administration] were putting [a stop] to some of the stuff that we wanted to do, such as 'See You at the Pole' and stuff like that -- they wouldn't allow us to put up posters. But when people come in with a Day of Silence for homosexuality, they [permit use of] the intercom. It was really frustrating, so we wanted to do something about it."

Wallestad felt some of his classmates who participated in the Day of Silence were promoting immorality. He said:

"The majority of these people who did participate are my friends because I want to be friends with a variety of people. So I actually did lose quite a few friends because of this."

Wallestad and other students plan to organize a "Christian Purity Day" which presumably promotes sexual abstinence. They plan to promote the event through posters, literature, and over the school intercom. If they take advantage of the Equal Access Law, and organize a conservative Christian student-run club, then they will have every right to fully advertise their cause on campus. If they remain unorganized, then they may well continue to experience restrictions from the administration. Whether they organize a club or not, they probably will not be allowed to skip classes.

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Washington state: Student Bible club dispute:

Tausha Prince unsuccessfully attempted to form a "World Changers" Bible club at Spanaway Lake High School in Washington state. She filed a complaint against the school district and the State which asserted that the defendants were establishing a two-track system that discriminated against religious groups. By withholding recognition, the school denied her group financial support and access to various publicity methods, such as the public address system, school yearbook, etc. This was not the usual after-class extracurricular club. The high school reserves a time interval each school day during which students could choose to receiving special instruction, attend assemblies, attend meetings of school-approved clubs, or do homework. The case, Prince v. Jacoby, was dismissed at a lower court level, but upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The latter ruled that the club should be given equal treatment with other student associations and permitted access to school space and supplies.

The lawyer for the school district said:

"No other court has ever held that religious clubs have the right to meet in a public school during instructional time when attendance is mandated."

Attorneys for the Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, argued that the school violated Ms. Prince's freedom of speech and religion, along with parts of the 1984 Equal Access Act. The district responded that it could not legitimately establish a special category of student religious groups like the "World Changers," which required members to pledge to "Evangelize our campus for Jesus Christ" and to "teach students that Jesus Christ is the Answer to the confusion, pain and uncertainty this world offers."

On 2003-OCT-6, at the reopening of the U.S. Supreme Court after the summer recess, the Justices announced that they would not hear a challenge to Prince v. Jacoby. The Court of Appeals decision thus stands as a precedence for future cases. 8

North Carolina: Student secular club dispute:

Kalei Wilson and her brother Ben decided to form a student club at Pisgah High School in Canton NC as an affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA). She said:

"This is a way to tell the school that not everybody believes in the same thing."

The school already had a Christian faith-based group and at least 30 others, so school administrators were required to authorize a secular club by the Equal Access Act. However, the school initially refused permission for the students to organize the club, on the basis that it would not be "... a good fit" for the school.

Kalei Wilson said:

"It's not fair to people like me who don't have a place to go to meet like-minded thinkers. We just wanted to prove that we can be good without God. We are not bad people. We deserve to be treated the same as everyone else."

The SSA then attempted to contact the school, but were ignored. Finally the SSA obtained the assistance of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the school relented. The FFRF announced that it will be rewarding both Kalei and her brother Ben with $1,000 scholarships for their efforts through the Clifford Richards Memorial Student Activist Award.

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North Carolina: Student secular club dispute:

Kalei Wilson and her brother Ben decided to form a student club at Pisgah High School in Canton NC as an affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA). She said:

"This is a way to tell the school that not everybody believes in the same thing."

The school already had a Christian faith-based group and at least 30 others, so school administrators were required to authorize a secular club by the Equal Access Act. However, the school initially refused permission for the students to organize the club, on the basis that it would not be "... a good fit" for the school.

Kalei Wilson said:

"It's not fair to people like me who don't have a place to go to meet like-minded thinkers. We just wanted to prove that we can be good without God. We are not bad people. We deserve to be treated the same as everyone else."

The SSA then attempted to contact the school, but were ignored. After weeks of waiting for a response, the SSA obtained the assistance of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The school relented and will allow the club to form. The FFRF announced that it will be rewarding both Kalei and her brother Ben with $1,000 scholarships for their efforts through the Clifford Richards Memorial Student Activist Award.

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Further information on the Act can be obtained from:

bullet "Religion in the Public Schools," Anti-Defamation League, at: http://www.adl.org/

bullet "A Guide to the Equal Access Act," Christian Legal Society, at: http://www.nlrc.org/public/

bullet David Buckel, "The Equal Access Act: What does it mean," at: http://www.glsen.org/

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The text of the Equal Access Act is at http://www4.law.cornell.edu/
  2. "Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens," 1990-JUN-4. 496 U.S. 226 (1990) (USSC+). The decision is available at: http://supct.law.cornell.edu/ and at: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ 
  3. J. Mooney, "Research/Term Paper Topics," at: http://www.etsu.edu/ 
  4. "How the club was formed," concerning the organization of an Atheist club, at:http://idt.net/
  5. S.E. Ericsson, Curriculum Vitae, at: http://advocatesinternational.org/
  6. Jim Brown, "Christian Students Punished for Countering Pro-Homosexual Observance." AgapePress, 2003-APR-15, at: http://headlines.agapepress.org/
  7. "Day of Silence 2003," GLSEN, at: http://www.dayofsilence.org/
  8. "Supreme Court to look at divinity training subsidies..." AANews, 2003-OCT-11.
  9. Kay Campbell, "North Carolina's Pisgah High School to allow secular student's club. ..." AL.ABAMA Media Group, at: http://www.al.com/

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Site navigation:

 Home page > Christianity > Christian history, etc > Prayer > Equal Access Act > here

or Home page > Religious Information > Religious practices > Prayer > Equal Access Act > here

or Home page > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Gay-straight alliances > Equal Access Act > here

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Copyright 2003 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003
Latest update: 2014-FEB-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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