By Ryan Foley, Christian Post Reporter
A federal appellate court has ruled that a California high school must allow a club for Christian athletes requiring participants to sign a “sexual purity” statement opposing homosexuality to meet on campus as an official student group. On Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes over a dispute surrounding its efforts to regain official recognition at Pioneer High School in San Jose.
A 2-1 opinion authored by Judge Kenneth Lee contends that the San Jose Unified School District violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by revoking FCA’s status as an official student club at its high schools in 2019. While the school district cited concerns that the club’s “sexual purity” statement and “statement of faith” constituted violations of the district’s non-discrimination policy, Lee wrote that the school district approved other student clubs whose constitutions limited membership based on gender identity and ethnicity.
The judge, appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump, identified the district’s approval of the Senior Women of Leland High School — open only to girls — as an example of this phenomenon.
“Under the First Amendment, our government must be scrupulously neutral when it comes to religion: It cannot treat religious groups worse than comparable secular ones,” Lee wrote in the majority opinion. “But the School District did just that.”
The FCA’s “sexual purity” statement declares, “God desires His children to lead pure lives of holiness.” The statement also highlights the Bible’s teachings that “the appropriate place for sexual expression is in the context of the marriage relationship” and that “the biblical definition of marriage is one man and one woman in a lifelong commitment.”
“While upholding God’s standard of holiness, FCA strongly affirms God’s love and redemptive power in the individual who chooses to follow Him. FCA’s desire is to encourage individuals to trust in Jesus and turn away from any impure lifestyle,” the statement concluded.
In dissent, Obama-appointed Judge Morgan Christen contends that the FCA lacks standing to “seek prospective preliminary relief, and our court lacks jurisdiction over this preliminary injunction appeal.”
“It is uncontested that student groups like FCA must reapply each fall for official ASB recognition. It is also uncontested that only student club leaders may apply,” Christen wrote.
“Because the District’s nondiscrimination policy cannot cause a real or immediately impending injury to FCA if no students apply for ASB recognition, FCA cannot establish standing without evidence that a Pioneer FCA student has applied, or intends to apply, for ASB recognition for the upcoming school year. FCA failed to make that showing.”
FCA’s statement of faith contains similar language, asking members to affirm the beliefs that “God’s design for sexual intimacy is to be expressed only within the context of marriage,” that “God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society” and that “marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.”
FCA was an official student club at three San Jose Unified School District high schools for over a decade before Pioneer High School social studies teacher Peter Glasser became aware of the FCA’s statement of faith and sexual purity statement. Glasser took issue with the club’s proclamation that “[t]he Bible is clear in teaching on sexual sin including sex outside of marriage and homosexual acts.” Glasser also opposed the statements’ insistence that “neither heterosexual sex outside of marriage nor any homosexual act constitute an alternative lifestyle acceptable to God.”
The FCA also required its officers to affirm that if they are “found being involved in a lifestyle that does not conform to FCA’s Sexual Purity Statement,” they will need to step down from their FCA leadership position.
Glasser posted the FCA statements on the whiteboard in his classroom, writing that he is “deeply saddened that a club on Pioneer’s campus asks its members to affirm these statements.”
In an email to the school’s principal, Glasser shared additional concerns about FCA’s beliefs stating that “God approves only of relationships between one man and one woman” and that “God assigns our gender identities at birth based on the physical parts He gives us.”
Glasser’s email led to a discussion among the school’s Climate Committee, a group of school leaders including principals and department heads, which culminated with the revocation of the FCA as an official school club. Glasser thought that the organization’s “views on LGBTQ+ identity infringe on the rights of others in my community to feel safe and enfranchised on their own campus, even infringing on their very rights to exist.”
The Climate Committee determined that the FCA statements violated school district policy requiring that “[a]ll district programs and activities within a school under the jurisdiction of the superintendent of the school district shall be free from discrimination, including harassment, with respect to the actual or perceived ethnic group, religion, gender, gender identity, gender expression, color, race, ancestry, national origin, and physical or mental disability, age or sexual orientation.”
While FCA continued to operate on campus despite lacking recognition as an official club, the organization experienced hostility from school officials, members of the school newspaper and the student community as a whole. Students from the school newspaper took “rapid-fire” photos of participants at FCA meetings and every meeting attracted protests from the student body. Teachers at the school, including Glasser, sought to “ban FCA completely from campus.”
This prompted a lawsuit seeking an injunction “requiring Defendants to restore recognition to student chapters affiliated with” the FCA and alleging violations of FCA students’ rights to free speech, expressive association and free exercise of religion under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. After a lower court sided with the school district, the 9th Circuit granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction and directed the lower court to “enter an order reinstating FCA as an official student club.”