Daniela Barca | Cases | First Liberty

Daniela and her Club

For Daniela Barca, being a Christian at school can feel very lonely. But as she was getting ready to go to high school, she thought she might not be the only one feeling that way. So, she decided to start a club at school where her classmates that felt the same way and believed the same things could meet together, discuss important topics, and pray together. As Daniela told one school administrator,

“I am a Christian. But sometimes it seems like I’m the only one. I want to start this club for other students like me so we can support each other in our beliefs. The school district celebrates diversity and the right to express who you are. All I want is to be allowed to express who I am. Everyone deserves as much.”

Stonewalled

In the summer of 2019, Daniela approached one of her teachers with her idea of starting a club for Christian students. Together, they worked to submit the required application, but, after weeks without an answer, school officials told Daniela that they had lost her application. Even after they found her application, school officials continued to drag the application process out for several weeks. Several months after Daniela had the idea to form the club—and after school officials approved more than 20 other student clubs—Daniela’s principal denied Daniela’s application. According to her principal, the school could not support a religious club like it supports secular student clubs—like the “Random Acts of Kindness” and “Gay Straight Alliance” student clubs.

Daniela appealed to the assistant superintendent for Wappingers Central School District who upheld the principal’s decision to deny the club. When Daniela’s father inquired to the assistant superintendent, asking why her daughter’s club could not meet, even though the Equal Access Act seems to suggest it could, he responded by explaining that a club meeting “to gather and talk about spreading the hope of Jesus” could not be recognized as an official club unless it modified its viewpoint to something more “generic” and “couldn’t limit it to the Christian Faith.”

Equal Access

The school’s denial of Daniela’s religious club violates the Equal Access Act of 1984. Congress passed the Equal Access Act to make it unlawful for a school who approves one secular student club to then make it unlawful to deny a religious student club based upon the religious content of that club’s speech. Since Ketcham High School approves and supports multiple secular student clubs, denying Daniela’s club because it is religious violates federal law.

Reverse

Soon after First Liberty reached out to the school system, officials reversed their position and allowed Daniela to form her club and begin meeting.

“We are grateful to Wappingers Central school district officials for acting swiftly to ensure that religious students can freely exercise their right to meet together at school,” said Keisha Russell, Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Daniela is thrilled she’ll be allowed to form a club so those who share her faith can express who they are and encourage each other.”

Daniela said, “I am so happy that school officials are going to allow us to start the club at school so we can support each other in our beliefs.”

News Release
For Immediate Release: 12.16.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

New York School Officials Reverse Policy that Denied Students’ Right to Form School Group
First Liberty Institute represents student prevented from forming student club at school because it is religious

Hopewell Junction, NY— After receiving a letter from First Liberty Institute, Wappingers Central School district officials reversed a decision that prevented First Liberty client Daniela Barca from forming a religious club at school.  Final approval of the club should take place at a January school board meeting.

“We are grateful to Wappingers Central school district officials for acting swiftly to ensure that religious students can freely exercise their right to meet together at school,” said Keisha Russell, Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Daniela is thrilled she’ll be allowed to form a club so those who share her faith can express who they are and encourage each other.”

Daniela said, “I am so happy that school officials are going to allow us to start the club at school so we can support each other in our beliefs.”

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.


12.11.19 – News Release

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