CANTON, N.C. – The administration of a public high school in western North Carolina has agreed to allow a group of students to form a club for nonreligious students after the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent officials a letter explaining how denial of the club would violate federal law.
“Students of all beliefs, religious and nonreligious, deserve an equal opportunity to meet in a safe and welcoming space where they can socialize and discuss their views with peers,” said ACLU-NCLF Legal Director Chris Brook, who co-signed the February 11 letter. “We’re very pleased that this situation is now resolved.”
Students at Pisgah High School in Canton have been trying since October 2013 to form a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance, which seeks to create welcoming communities for nonreligious students, but were told by officials that the club would not “fit in” and could not find a faculty sponsor. The school has about 30 extracurricular clubs, including at least two religious clubs: the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Key Club.
In a February 11 letter to the superintendent of Haywood County Public Schools, the ACLU-NCLF and FFRF said that prohibiting students from forming the club violated the federal Equal Access Act, which prohibits public schools from discriminating against student organizations on the basis of religious or political beliefs. The EAA also requires schools to appoint a faculty sponsor in the absence of volunteers.
“Preventing Pisgah High students from forming an SSA group not only violates the law but is also bad policy,” the Feb. 11 letter stated. “Nonreligious and non-Christian students within Pisgah High school should have an equal opportunity to make their school a better place for themselves and their classmates.”
The students were told they would be allowed to form the club after a recent meeting with Pisgah High’s principal.
UPDATE: Kalei Wilson, the student who wanted to start the club and who is mentioned in the letter, has decided to reverse couse, citing threats. Read this article from the Religion News Service to find out more.