Archive for Friday, June 8, 2007

Pleasanton school district settles lawsuit with Christian student group

June 8, 2007

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— A federal lawsuit over an eastern Kansas school district's restrictions on a Fellowship of Christian Athletes group has been settled, with the district agreeing to recognize the club and extend it the same privileges as other student groups.

The settlement between the Pleasanton school district and a parent of students belonging to the FCA was reached late last week in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan. It followed a preliminary injunction issued in January by District Judge Carlos Murguia ordering the district not to discriminate against the club.

Kristie McKee, a mother of three students in the district, alleged that in 2005, the district's new superintendent and school board stripped the FCA group at Pleasanton High School of its student club status and refused to recognize it. That meant the FCA could not use school vehicles, use school facilities without charge, appear in the yearbook or raise money on school property.

In one case, the district tried to charge the FCA a fee to hold an after-school rally on school property.

"To give credit to the school district, they thought they were following the law," said Leawood attorney Joel L. Oster, who represented the students for the Alliance Defense Fund. "After we won the injunction, they said, 'If that's what the law is, then that's what the law is.'"

The Alliance Defense Fund represents Christian organizations in religious liberty issues.

A spokesman for the Kansas City-based Fellowship of Christian Athletes said the organization almost never has problems with school districts.

"Occasionally, schools have new administrators, or there's a new school, and they're not aware of the particulars granted by the Equal Access Act of 1984," the spokesman, Tom Rogeberg, said Thursday. "This was a pretty rare case, so it did surprise me, but we also knew how it would come out."

Oster also said he was surprised the Alliance Defense Fund had to resort to a lawsuit.

"One wonders why the district was fighting it," he said. "Usually, they never go to court. We send a demand letter, they say, 'It's the law,' and they give the organization equal rights."

Topeka attorney Terrelle A. Mock, who represented the school district, said neither she nor district officials would comment on the settlement.

At the January hearing, Mock argued that the restrictions on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club were unrelated to its status as religion-based. The high school sponsors only curriculum-related groups, she said at the time.

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