(Daily Caller News Foundation) – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that a California school district violated the rights of a Christian athletics club by forcing them off campus.
In 2019, the San José Unified School District (SJUSD) derecognized the Fellowship for Christian Athletics (FCA) after a teacher made complaints that the club was sharing its faith on campus, which included the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. FCA filed a lawsuit with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in April 2020 but faced several defeats in court, until the Ninth Circuit ruled this week that the district had potentially violated the FCA’s rights under the First Amendment and reversed a previous decision to deny FCA’s request for an injunction, according to court documents.
“The District, rather than treating FCA like comparable secular student groups whose membership was limited based on criteria including sex, race, ethnicity, and gender identity, penalized it based on its religious beliefs,” the ruling reads. “Because the Constitution prohibits such a double standard — even in the absence of any motive to do so — we reverse the district court’s denial of FCA’s motion for a preliminary injunction.”
FCA requires students who volunteer with the club in a “leadership capacity” to sign a statement of faith that includes the belief that “sexual intimacy is designed only to be expressed within the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman” and that they will follow the club’s policy on this issue, according to the ruling. In April 2019, Peter Glasser, a teacher at Pioneer High School, obtained a copy of this statement of faith and posted it on his whiteboard, saying that he was “deeply saddened” by such a policy.
The following month after several complaints from Glasser, the district stripped FCA of its Associated Student Body (ASB) status and could not longer be a recognized club on campus, according to the ruling. Principal Herb Espiritu said the policy is of a “discriminatory nature” in the Pioneer’s school newspaper, The Pony Express, despite later testifying that he did not consult FCA about the policy before making the decision.
A district court ruled against the Christian organization’s request for an injunction in June 2022, meaning the group could not operate on campus as ASB while the lawsuit went through the court system, according to the ruling. The appeals court, however, determined that the lower court’s decision was flawed since it was trying to hold FCA to a higher standard than it had for the past two decades, according to the ruling.
“Here, the District’s new policy of enforcing its nondiscrimination rules likewise alters the status quo of providing FCA clubs ASB recognition,” the ruling reads. “Because it was the District’s action that ‘affirmatively changed’ that status quo and Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction seeks to restore that status quo … the district court thus erred in applying a heightened standard applicable to mandatory injunctions.”
SJUSD did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.