Pioneer High School, located in San Jose, took exception to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes requiring the club’s student leaders to sign a "sexual purity" statement as well as a "statement of faith." Those biblical beliefs are pretty standard for a faith-based organization, and they did not apply to other students, but school officials ultimately ruled that the reference to homosexuality violated a nondiscrimination policy.
So the school district pulled the club in 2019 and denied to recognize the “FCA Huddle” again during the 2019-2020 school year.
The ruling on Monday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was 2-1. In the ruling authored by Judge Kenneth Lee, Judge Lee and Judge Danielle Forrest said San Jose Unified School District violated the First Amendment when it revoked FCA’s status as a high school club, The Christian Post reported.
Judge Lee pointed out the high school recognizes other student clubs whose membership is based on ethnicity and gender, such as a girls-only club for seniors.
In a statement to AFN, FCA said it is “grateful” for the court decision that allows its “FCA Huddles” to resume serving student athletes in the San Jose school district.
“With the help of our attorneys at Becket and CLS,” the statement said, “the court protected our Huddles' equal access to campus, ensuring FCA students are treated fairly.”
Attorney: Teacher 'disparaged' his own students
According to the CP story, the FCA chapter at Pioneer High had been meeting and ministering for 20 years until social studies teacher Peter Glasser learned about the statement of faith and the “purity” statement.
Glasser, who started the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance Club, ran to school officials to complain about the FCA statements, calling them discriminatory. Urged by the teacher to take action, a faculty group called the “Climate Committee” convened to discuss the FCA Huddle and its beliefs. The committee ultimately agreed to punish FCA and yank its status.
According to a story by Pioneer High’s own student newspaper, The Pony Express, Glasser also posted the FCA statements in his social studies classroom and led class discussions about how unfair they are.
The statements remained up on the whiteboard for a week in the class where some FCA members were among Glasser’s students.
An attorney for the Center for Law and Religious Freedom, co-counsel for the FCA lawsuit, later complained to Superintendent Nancy Albarran that Glasser had “disparaged” his own students’ religious beliefs. The attorney said the teacher had also “mischaracterized” the FCA itself, since it welcomes all students to attend meetings.
The same student newspaper story showed Gay-Straight Alliance students protesting in a hallway during an FCA meeting in 2019. A campus police officer is seen barring the protesters from entering.
Glasser, who is still employed at Pioneer High, was featured in a five-minute YouTube video (screen shot at top) in which he praised the teaching profession. He also said his goal as a teacher is to help students grow and mature, and to be comfortable being themselves.
“As a teacher,” he smilingly said, “I can’t accomplish anything unless kids can come into my classroom and feel safe.”
Ruling sends 'important message' to public schools
Reacting to the ruling, First Liberty Institute attorney Kayla Toney says the decision “certainly sets a precedent” for the public schools in nine western states covered by the 9th Circuit.
“"It also sends an important message to school districts everywhere,” Toney says, “that they cannot discriminate against Christian or religious students because the First Amendment protects those students' ability to exercise their faith."
First Liberty, which has represented Christian students in similar lawsuits, filed a friend-of-the-court brief that supported FCA.