March 7th, 2009
Prior to 1984, some religiously devout students in some less supportive locations found it difficult to observe their faith in public schools. While they watched the chess club and fan clubs meet without restriction, requests for a Bible club were routinely denied.
To remedy that inequality, Congress passed the Equal Access Act which said that if a school allowed any non-curriculum student-led organizations, then it had to allow other such organizations to meet. Churches rejoiced and Bible clubs sprang up across the nation.
But, as is often the case, those who sought remedy for discrimination against themselves soon found that such protections also applied when they were the oppressors. And, ironically, perhaps those students who have most utilized Equal Access Act have not been Christian kids denied access by liberal secular humanists, but rather gay and lesbian kids denied access by anti-gay Christians.
The ACLU has now established a long history of using the Equal Access Act to force public schools to allow gay students and their friends to organize and work to oppose discrimination and inequality. In case after case, judges have found that if the Fellowship of Christian Athletes can meet after school in a classroom, then so can the Gay Straight Alliance.
Schools with anti-gay authorities aren’t too pleased about this. And they have frequently tried to bar gay and gay-friendly students from meeting, going to court and indignantly defending their position.
They generally argue that gay clubs are sexual hook-up clubs whose purpose is to advocate for immoral sexual behaviors -and provide sex partners – and that because they are an “abstinence only” school then they have a right to deny this “sex club”. Or they may argue that there is already a generic anti-bigotry club (usually in actuality a black or Hispanic student club) so there’s no need for a club to support gay students. Some – with a perfectly straight face – will argue that if gay students identify as such they will be picked on so the school needs to protect gay students by not allowing them to meet.
These arguments tend to be recognized as the defense of homophobia that they are and judges don’t often find them very persuasive. In fact, I can’t think of a single instance in which the courts found that schools, principals, or school boards could deny equal access to gay students.
About the best that a school can hope for is to be allowed to deny access to all non-curricular clubs. And some have found themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to take proactive steps towards affirming their gay students in what is obviously a hostile environment.
And they are not cheap. The Okeechobee County School Board recently paid $326,000 in attorneys fees only to be told that not only could the GSA meet on campus but that the school board had an obligation to provide for the well-being of gay students. And even if the loss of such a suit is covered by insurance, it plays havoc with insurance rates for schools everywhere.
So why, then, do school boards try so desperately to fight to exclude gay kids? In a time in which communities are hurting and budgets are tight, when parents are losing jobs and tax bases are eroding, why do these elected officials allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars for an effort that is almost certain to be a lost cause?
Well, I think we can find a clue in the Florida Baptist Witness story about the School Board of Nassau County and their desire to keep students at Yulee High School from starting a gay supportive club with the word “gay” in the name. The students were told that they needed to change the name of the organization to exclude sexual orientation in order to comply with school board policy and be allowed to meet.
In other words, you can get together but you can’t be gay.
Leading the charge against these students is Nassau County Schools superintendent John Ruis. He doesn’t want to let the gay students be “in conflict and at odds with regard to somebody’s freedom of speech or expression” and thinks that “you try and deal with [homosexuality] for the safety and the wellbeing of the children”.
But it’s pretty much a forgone conclusion at this point that the school board is going to lose. So why does Ruis continue spending taxpayer money – or risk insurance rates for years to come – on this case? I think I can guess.
Ruis said he appreciated the prayers and support of his church friends like Bryan, pastor of Brandy Branch Baptist, who he taught as a young man in Sunday School.
In what is surely no surprise to anyone:
A federal judge this afternoon [3/11/09] ordered Nassau County schools to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance to meet at Yulee High School while a court battle over the right of the club to meet is pending.
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Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.
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