In Georgia, Christian Club Wins Official Respect – No Strings Attached
Inside the Issues with Alan Sears
Alan Sears, Esquire
ADF President, CEO, & General Counsel
August 4, 2009
Speaking out against prejudice – at least, what the school approved of calling prejudice – was okay. Knitting was okay. Even playing with puppets was okay. But when it came to praying with other Christians – the Atlanta Public Schools officials told students to, well, put a sock in it.
Throughout the 2008-2009 school year, the district denied the Christian young people in Sutton Middle School's Student-to-Student Club the same rights and privileges as all the other clubs on campus. While members of the knitting and puppetry and Power Over Prejudice clubs were allowed to meet on campus free of charge, talk up their clubs to other students, and utilize school communications to announce upcoming activities, members of Student-to-Student were treated very differently – they were required to pay rent, keep quiet, and squelch public announcements of their doings.
That all changed a few weeks ago when Alliance Defense Fund attorneys secured a settlement with Atlanta Public Schools that will result in official recognition of the Student to Student Club. ADF lawyers filed suit against the district last March on behalf of one of the club's members and his mother, claiming that school officials violated the club members' constitutional rights by discriminating against their organization because it is religious.
"Christian student groups shouldn't be discriminated against for their beliefs," says ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman, who handled the student's suit along with ADF-allied attorneys Jonathan Crumly and S. Fenn Little of Atlanta-based Little, Crumly & Chambliss, LLP. "We are pleased that the district has agreed to recognize and honor the Student to Student Club, which is now entitled to the same treatment given to all other student clubs on campus.
"The First Amendment and federal law prohibit this kind of discrimination against student groups," he adds, "and this has been established through decades of court precedent. School officials now recognize that it is unconstitutional to deny equal treatment to a student club just because it is religious."
Under the terms of the settlement stated in the voluntary dismissal filed by ADF attorneys, the district granted the club equal access to the school as well as all benefits and privileges extended to other recognized clubs. The district also agreed to continue equal treatment, reimburse rental fees charged to the club that were not charged to other groups, and pay attorneys' fees.
We are grateful for this important victory in a major school district, and I hope you will join me in praying that the precedents established in cases like this one will make a strong impression on other school officials around the country. It is our dream not only that Christian young people throughout our nation who want to meet and give encouragement to each other will be free to do so…but that their mutual encouragement will have a powerful, saving impact on the lives of those around them.