Ninth Circuit again backs evangelical Christian student-athletes in San Jose high school club flap

The right of evangelical Christians to have a student athletic club at a San Jose, California, high school has been affirmed in federal court for the second time in a little over a year.

The San Jose Unified School District de-listed the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a recognized student group after one social studies teacher balked, saying the organization’s views on marriage were “bulls—-.”

A 9-2 ruling Wednesday by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered the San Jose Unified School District to reinstate the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Pioneer High School, saying a 2019 decision to drop the group because of its stand on marriage was unconstitutional.

Under the club’s rules, all students are welcome to participate in events and join as members. But chapter leaders must affirm the religious beliefs found in FCA’s “Statement of Faith,” which reflect traditional evangelical views of the authority of the Bible, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life.

A particular tenet requires those leaders to accept the teaching that “sexual intimacy is to be expressed only within the context of marriage,” with marriage defined as being “exclusively the union of one man and one woman.”

When he learned of it, Pioneer High School social studies teacher Peter Glasser complained to principal Herbert Espiritu via email: “I am an adult on your campus, and these views are bulls—- to me. They have no validity. It’s not a choice, and it’s not a sin. I’m not willing to be an enabler for this kind of ‘religious freedom’ anymore.”

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit found last September that the district “engaged in selective enforcement of its own non-discrimination policy, penalizing FCA while looking the other way with other secular student groups that maintained facially discriminatory membership criteria.”

The district told that panel they would appeal, and asked for the entire Ninth Circuit to hear the case.

In Wednesday’s majority opinion authored by Circuit Judge Consuelo M. Callahan, the court said “it makes equal sense that a religious group be allowed to require that its leaders agree with the group’s most fundamental beliefs.” The Court concluded that “the First Amendment ‘counsel[s] mutual respect and tolerance for religious and non-religious views alike.”

President George W. Bush named Judge Callahan to the Ninth Circuit in 2003.

In a statement, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty vice president and senior counsel Daniel Blomberg called the latest ruling “a huge win for these brave kids.” He said the decision “ensures religious students are again treated fairly in San Jose and throughout California.”

Mr. Becket, along with the Christian Legal Society, represented the FCA and its chapter in the case.

The San Jose Unified School District did not respond to The Times’ request for comment on the decision.

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