Principals and administrators of all federally funded school districts need to be aware of the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act of 1984 that allows all students the right to form clubs, including religious clubs, and hold meetings on the premises of the school. The laws must be followed by any school district that receives federal funding. Private and parochial school are exempt from these laws.
Specific guidelines have been established for all club meetings including religious meetings. The administrators of the school district must follow specific guidelines. These guidelines include the school district must ensure that all clubs organized within a public school system are:
…designed and initiated by students.
…require only voluntary attendance
…sponsorship must not be provided by the school system
…employees are non-participatory in all club meetings
…the meetings do not materially or substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of school
…non-school personal do not direct, conduct or regularly attend any club meetings
School districts and administrator’s must also follow the following guidelines for any religious based club meetings:
…employees may not influence the form or content of prayer or other religious activity
…no student is required to participate in prayer or other religious activity
…school funds do not go beyond the incidental cost of providing the space
…no school agent or employee is asked to attend a school meeting if it is contrary to their beliefs, sanction meetings that are otherwise unlawful
…limit the rights of the group of student which are not a specific numerical size, or abridge the constitutional rights of any of the individuals.
Several court cases have been fought to uphold the Equal Access Act of 1984 and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution on the validity of equal access for students and religious based clubs within a Federally funded school district or college. These court cases have been fought within the Supreme Court system and include: Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 110 S.Ct. 2356 (1990); Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, 508 U.S. 384, 113 S.Ct. 2141 (1993); Ceniceros v. Board of Trustees of the San diego Unified School District, 106 F.3d 878 (1997); Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263; 102 S. Ct. 269 (1981; Bender Et v. Williamsport area School District, 475 U.S. 534; 106 S. Ct. 1326 (1986); and Pope v. East Brunswick Board of Education, 12. F.3d 1244 (1993).
Principals and administrators of public school districts should be aware of the laws pertaining to students wishing to create and initiate religious based clubs after school hours within a school system receiving federal funding.
The United States Constitution
American Public School Law (1998) by Alexander, Kern & Alexander