And it’s right here in Michigan this time, at Farmington High School. The school refuses to give official recognition to a Christian student club. What makes this case more ridiculous than most is that that the school actually tries to cite legal precedent, completely distorting it in the process, to justify their position.
Policy 6141.1 of the Farmington Public Schools states, “Strict neutrality toward religion will be maintained by accommodating free exercise of religious beliefs while maintaining appropriate separation between religion and government.” Borrowing the words from Lemon v. Kurtzman, a famous Supreme Court case on the separation of church and state, the policy mandates that all practices sponsored by the schools have a “secular purpose,” the primary effects “neither advance nor inhibit religion,” and there must be no “excessive entanglements.”
If the school district actually had an attorney draw up that policy or give them this legal advice, that attorney should be fired. Immediately. The Lemon test applies to government actions, not to student groups. The law on recognition of student groups is controlled by Westside Community Bd. Of Ed. v. Mergens, which upheld the Equal Access Act. The holding could not be more clear:
Westside’s denial of respondents’ request to form a religious group constitutes a denial of “equal access” to the school’s limited open forum. Although the school apparently permits respondents to meet informally after school, they seek equal access in the form of official recognition, which allows clubs to be part of the student activities program and carries with it access to the school newspaper, bulletin boards, public address system, and annual Club Fair. Since denial of such recognition is based on the religious content of the meetings respondents wish to conduct within the school’s limited open forum, it violates the Act.
Not only is the case identical to the one here, but the ruling explicitly rejected the notion that such recognition violates the Lemon test:
(a) Because the Act on its face grants equal access to both secular and religious speech, it meets the secular purpose prong of the test. P. 248-249.
(b) The Act does not have the primary effect of advancing religion. There is a crucial difference between government and private speech endorsing religion, and, as Congress recognized in passing the Act, high school students are mature enough and are likely to understand that a school does not endorse or support student speech that it merely permits on a nondiscriminatory basis. Moreover, the Act expressly limits participation by school officials at student religious group meetings and requires that such meetings be held during “noninstructional time,” and thereby avoids the problems of the students’ emulation of teachers as role models and mandatory attendance requirements that might otherwise indicate official endorsement or coercion. Although the possibility of student peer pressure remains, there is little if any risk of government endorsement or coercion where no formal classroom activities are involved and no school officials actively participate. Pp. 249-252.
(c) Westside does not risk excessive entanglement between government and religion by complying with the Act, since the Act’s provisions prohibit faculty monitors from participating in, nonschool persons from directing, controlling, or regularly attending, and school “sponsorship” of, religious meetings. Indeed, a denial of equal access might well create greater entanglement problems in the form of invasive monitoring to prevent religious speech at meetings at which it might occur. Pp. 252-253.
You could not ask for a more direct refutation of the legality of the school district’s policy, and it appears in binding Supreme Court precedent. The Thomas More Law Center, which is handling the case, no doubt cited this in their letter to the school district. Yet the school district still refused to recognize the club, resulting in a lawsuit being filed. This is absolutely a no-brainer ruling. The plaintiffs will undoubtedly win a summary judgment from the court; there is no need to even hold the trial. Why in the world is the school district wasting everyone’s time and money on this? If their attorney thinks they can win this case, it’s time to find a new attorney.