Christian group that bars gay and transgender students from leadership asks court to force San Jose Unified to reinstate it

Because the Fellowship of Christian Athletes prohibits gay, lesbian, or transgender students from serving as leaders, the San Jose Unified School District refuses to recognize it as an official student organization. On Tuesday, an attorney for the group argued in a federal appeals court that the district violated freedom of speech and religion.

While the district proclaims it has an ‘all comers’ inclusive policy, ‘this is a policy of some that favors secular groups,’ attorney Daniel Blomberg told a court panel appeals from the U.S. Ninth Circuit during a hearing in Seattle. Under the U.S. Constitution and federal law, he said, “you cannot discriminate based on the content of the speech.”

But Stacey Leyton, an attorney for the school district, said she did not interfere with the fraternity’s right to express their opinions. To be officially recognized, however, “it must not exclude students from leadership or membership” because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or other categories such as race and gender, a she told the court. Official student organizations are listed in the school yearbook and may hold funds in a school bank account.

Leyton cited the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco did not have to provide funding to a group of Christian students that excluded gays, lesbians and non-gays. believers. It was a 5-4 decision that the current court, with a more conservative majority, could reconsider if it agrees to reconsider San Jose’s case.

The appeals court panel, selected by lot, was relatively conservative – two of the three justices were appointed by former President Donald Trump – but gave some clues about their intentions during the hearing. one o’clock.

Judge Danielle Forrest, a Trump appointee, at one point suggested that San Jose was treating the Fellowship of Christian Athletes unfairly because the school district had granted official recognition in the past to certain clubs with non-inclusive policies, such as mentoring groups for girls. Leyton responded that current school district policies treat all organizations equally and that mentor groups and organizations serving students of color have said they will be open to anyone.

Later, Forrest told Blomberg that the San Jose policy appeared similar to the non-discrimination rules the Supreme Court had upheld in 2010. Unlike the UC Hastings policy, the attorney replied that in San Jose, “it remained to be determined whether something was discriminatory or not”. down to local officials” who did not apply uniform standards.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a religious organization whose policies for its members include a “statement of sexual purity”, stating that “the biblical description of marriage is one man and one woman in a lifetime commitment”. The group says its “desire is to encourage individuals to trust in Jesus and turn away from any unclean way of life.”

The scholarship had athlete chapters at three San Jose high schools—Pioneer, Willow Glen, and Leland—which were recognized as official student organizations until 2019, when the district implemented its current discrimination policy and removed recognition of the three. Willow Glen and Leland chapters have since disbanded, while Pioneer High has a group of students seeking to restore official recognition.

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam of Oakland declined to order the group’s reinstatement in a June 1 decision, saying the school district does not suppress speech or religion, but promotes a reasonable policy that encourages equal participation .

Blomberg asked the appeals court to overturn Gilliam and also requested an interim decision, by next Monday, that would immediately reinstate the high school chapter as an official organization pending a final decision. The court did not say when it would rule.

Bob Egelko is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @BobEgelko

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