When high-school sophomore Liz Loverde submitted her proposal to start a “Dare to Believe” Christian club at Wantagh High School in Long Island, New York, her principal told her no! But Liz was persistent, and explained to her principal that she had a right to start the club—thanks to The Equal Access Act, written into federal in law in 1984. Liz’s principal still refused to allow the club, and therefore violated federal law.
First Liberty Institute has chosen to stand beside Liz as she bravely fights for her right to equal access at her school. The Equal Access Act gives Liz a right to form her club—but what exactly does the Act say?
Here are three things you need to know about The Equal Access Act:
1. It’s against the law to deny a student club based on its members’ religious beliefs.
“It shall be deemed unlawful for any public secondary school which receives Federal financial assistance and which has a limited open forum to deny equal access . . . to students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.”
The Equal Access Act states that prohibiting a club because of its religious affiliation is unlawful. When Liz’s principal said that a club that focuses solely on the Bible would be prohibited at the school, the principal forbade the club’s existence based solely on the content of the speech of the students in the club.
2. If a school already has one student-led, non-curriculum club that meets outside of class time, then it must allow others and cannot discriminate.
A public secondary school has a limited open forum “. . . whenever such school grants an offering to or opportunity for one or more non-curriculum related student groups to meet on school premises during non-instructional time.”
By allowing another non-academic club to meet, Liz’s high school has created a “limited open forum.” Her school, therefore, cannot deny access to a Christian club if it does allow access to the Rube Goldberg Club, Wantagh Animal Rights and Recycling (W.A.R.R.), or Variation Club (a gay-straight-everyone alliance club). And it allows all three to meet.
3. For students who want to create a non-curriculum club, they must be afforded the same opportunities as other clubs.
If a school allows other non-curriculum clubs to meet during non-instructional times, it must do so for all clubs alike. Schools must provide fair opportunities for any club to meet, and to do so they must uniformly provide:
WE’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE—AND WE’VE WON!
Less than a month ago, Ward Melville High School also prohibited a Christian club. Ward Melville school officials denied Students United in Faith—a religious club—to be recognized as a club on the school campus. First Liberty Institute quickly sent the school a letter, explaining the illegality of their discrimination, and demanding that the school amend their decision. The school complied, and Students United in Faith now meets at Ward Melville High School as an official student organization.
We are confident that the principal and superintendent at Wantagh High School will react similarly, and that Dare to Believe will soon be a recognized student club and afforded all of the benefits of the high schools more than 30 other extracurricular student clubs.
That’s why on Monday, November 17, 2014, First Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to Wantagh High School and the Wantagh Union Free School District, explaining that The Equal Access Act very clearly protects Liz’s right to form Dare to Believe. We hope that the school district corrects their mistake and respond favorably. In the event that they do not, however, First Liberty Institute is fully prepared to defend Liz’s constitutional right to free speech, and her additional freedoms as outlined in The Equal Access Act.
Defending the rights of students like Liz is what we do at First Liberty Institute. Our top tier constitutional attorneys are experts on religious liberty, and our volunteer attorney network consists of some of the most successful and influential lawyers in the nation.
But resources like these don’t come cheap, which is why we need help from supporters like you. Consider a gift to First Liberty Institute today, and help play a crucial role in defending religious liberty in this great nation.
CLICK HERE to hear Fox News host Gretchen Carlson sound off on The Equal Access Act after a recent interview with First Liberty Institute’s Hiram Sasser and our client Liz Loverde.
About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.firstliberty.org.