In a recent ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a California school to recognize a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) chapter. Following recent Supreme Court precedent, the court held that the school’s anti-discrimination policy did not justify exclusion of the student group.
The FCA, a Christian organization, requires its leaders to affirm specific tenets, including a statement discouraging sex outside the marriage of a man and a woman. The school deemed this requirement as a violation of its anti-discrimination policy and denied official recognition for the FCA chapter.
The Ninth Circuit, in line with recent Supreme Court precedent, found that the school's application of its anti-discrimination policy infringed on constitutional religious freedom protections. The court highlighted three key considerations in evaluating the school's actions.
Firstly, the school allowed other exemptions to its policy. For example, the Senior Women club could limit its membership to female-identifying seniors. Similarly, the South Asian Heritage Club selected members on the basis of ethnicity, with the school’s approval. Secondly, the fact that the school granted exemptions to these and other secular clubs showed favoritism for secular activities over religious exercise. Thirdly, the statements of teachers and administrators on the decision committee showed negative bias to religious beliefs. For example, one of the teachers who spearheaded the exclusion of the FCA chapter, in the word of the court, told students “in front of their peers—that the views embodied in their Statement of Faith were objectionable and hurtful and had no rightful place on campus.”
Youth organizations must remember that while nondiscrimination policies are important, institutions must implement them in a manner that respects religious freedom. All non discrimination policies and enforcement of them must meet the three-prong test that the courts are beginning to apply.