A Kansas school system has ended staff participation in a local Fellowship of Christian Athletes club after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained.
A concerned district parent had informed the state/church watchdog that staff members at Northeast Junior High School in Arma, Kan., had started a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club, which is impermissible.
“It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence wrote to Northeast Unified School District #246 Superintendent Ray Streeter. “To avoid coercing students into participating in a religious club, the district may not allow staff or outside adults to be involved in student religious clubs beyond a supervisory capacity.”
Furthermore, FFRF pointed out, the Equal Access Act, which allows religious student clubs to form, requires that “employees or agents of the school or government are present at religious meetings only in a nonparticipatory capacity.” Students in secondary schools may organize religious clubs but these must be entirely student-initiated and student-led and take place outside of instructional hours.
FFRF requested that the school district investigate this matter to ensure that it complied with the Equal Access Act and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Staff members may not organize, lead or participate in any religious student clubs, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, FFRF emphasized.
Northeast USD #246 school officials gave FFRF’s critique a sympathetic hearing.
“I spoke and communicated with appropriate personnel mentioned in your letter and addressed the concern of FCA having to be initiated and run by students effective immediately and moving forward,” Streeter, the school system superintendent, recently responded. “I also contacted our Kansas Association of State Board (KASB) attorneys and our district attorney to assist in this process.”
FFRF feels a sense of satisfaction at having its objections taken seriously.
“Teachers cannot be directly involved in creating or running student religious clubs, and this is particularly important when the clubs take a position on religion,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We're pleased that school officials have taken action to uphold this important neutrality.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Kansas. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.