Unconstitutional elementary school religious club disbanded in Fla.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes will not be able to organize and run a religious club for students at an elementary school in Hamilton County School District in Florida.

FFRF was informed that Hamilton County Elementary School had permitted the North Central Florida Fellowship of Christian Athletes to begin a new club at Hamilton Elementary. A Jan. 27 post from the official North Central Florida FCA Facebook account announced the “New Huddle” at the elementary school.

Additionally, on Feb. 9, the district’s assistant superintendent informed FFRF’s complainant that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is an official “student-led” organization at Hamilton Elementary. The complainant was told that there were no records of the Fellowship or an affiliated group renting space at Hamilton Elementary. The response made it clear that the school was allowing a religious club for children at an elementary school during the school day.

“Students have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools. While the Equal Access Act protects students’ right to form religious clubs in secondary schools, it does not apply to elementary schools. Elementary students are too young to truly run a club entirely on their own initiative with no input from school staff or outside adults. The Establishment Clause prohibits school employees from organizing or leading a religious club for students and therefore prohibits religious clubs in elementary schools,” wrote FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence. “Any claims that the Hamilton Elementary FCA club is ‘student led’ are at best naive and at worst dishonest. Young children cannot practically initiate, organize, and run an FCA club on their own, meaning adults are the ones truly behind the club.”

It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion. It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for an elementary school to organize, lead, or encourage student participation in a religious club like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The school’s actions needlessly alienated and excluded students and families who are not Christian, including those who are nonreligious. At least a third of Generation Z (those born after 1996) have no religion, with a recent survey revealing almost half of Gen Z qualify as “Nones” (religiously unaffiliated). Hamilton Elementary should strive to be welcoming and inclusive of all students, not just those who subscribe to a particular brand of Christianity, FFRF emphasized.

Thankfully, the district was willing to listen to reason and obey the law.

“The district has investigated the allegations of your letter and concluded that there was a small group of fifth grade students participating in such a club at the school,” the legal counsel for the school district recently responded to FFRF. “While these same students will be eligible to participate in FCA on the campus of Hamilton County High School in a few short months as six graders, in an effort to avoid any perception that such a gathering on the campus of Hamilton Elementary is being organized, promoted or endorsed by the district or its employees, the club has been dispersed.”

FFRF is always pleased to see the freedom of conscience of students being respected.

“The Hamilton County School District ought to know better than allowing a religious group free access to students during the day,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says. “School districts exist to educate, not indoctrinate into religion.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 2,000 members and the Central Florida Freethought Community chapter in Florida. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend