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News - Religious Freedom and Equal Access Restored

Powhatan Student and Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Settle Suit in Federal Court--School will not Censor Religious Speech
Faculty Will Receive First Amendment Training

Freedom Works Foundation, a nonprofit foundation, announced today (May 5, 2000) that it has successfully obtained a commitment to the First Amendment in Powhatan County High School, protecting the religious liberties and rights of equal access for students there. Civil Rights Attorney Thomas H. Roberts with the foundation said he was pleased with the results.  

 

The parties issued a joint statement stating "The parties to the dispute between FCA and Powhatan High School have amicably resolved their dispute to their satisfaction and are joined in their commitment to the liberties guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."

The school agreed that the Powhatan Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes will be accorded the same rights to use the Public Address system and bulletin boards to announce its meetings and activities as other non-curriculum related clubs.

The school also agreed to provide the high school administration with copies of the Guidelines on Religious Expression in Public Schools from the United States Secretary of Education. Additionally the school agreed to review those guidelines with the faculty during its orientation at the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year.

The school agreed to refrain from censoring materials by the club in the event that another club booklet describing the schoolís clubs was published.

The parties entered a Stipulation of Dismissal ending the litigation stating that "the parties have resolved their dispute."

The dispute ends litigation which began on November 17, 1999, when Beth Sloan a Powhatan High School Student filed suit in the United States District Court in Richmond, Virginia for violations of her First Amendment rights to speech and religion. After Powhatan High School rejected the application of the student-led club and local chapter of Fellowship for Christian Athletes, to be permitted to have a youth pastor speak to the club on the topic of "Christian growth," the student sued seeking an injunction to protect her First Amendment rights to speech and religious freedom. The school backed down and permitted the club to have its speaker.

Civil Rights Attorney Thomas H. Roberts stated that "the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that schools like Powhatan High School are not permitted to discriminate against student clubs simply because of their religious activities or viewpoints. The Supreme Court made that clear in Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 115 S.Ct. 2510, 2516 (1995) where it ruled the University was required to pay the publication expenses of a student Christian newspaper in accordance with its general policy of funding student newspapers."

The Supreme Court in Lambís Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, 408 U.S. 384 (1993) held that a school which allows after-hours access to its facilities to a wide variety of public organizations cannot deny that same access to religious groups.

The lawsuit also addressed the schoolís censoring of the studentís speech by restricting and editing the description of the club which they submitted to be published in a directory by the Student Council Association. The school had removed detailed Christian references describing the clubs purpose.

Civil Rights Attorney Thomas H. Roberts had argued that the schoolís action was a denial of the right of free speech and would risk fostering a pervasive bias or hostility to religion, which could undermine the very neutrality the Establishment Clause requires. Roberts stated "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."

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Contact:
Thomas H. Roberts, Esq.
Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C.
105 S. 1st Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
(804) 783-2000
(804) 783-2105

Other Information:
http://www.robertslaw.org/powhatan1.htm - Equal Access Act, Guidelines etc.
http://www.robertslaw.org/sloan.htm - Affidavit
http://www.robertslaw.org/beth's.htm - Letter from Beth Sloan

The facts and circumstances of each case are unique and therefore the fact that a law firm has obtained significant verdicts and results in other cases in no way guarantees that other cases will have similar results.