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In a big win lauded by Jewish religious rights groups, the U.S.'s largest federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ (FCA) student clubs can once again freely gather and hold events on public high school campuses because the First Amendment "counsel[s] mutual respect and tolerance for religious and non-religious views alike."

Local Fellowship of Christian Athletes clubs had served students in San Jose high schools for over a decade. They held regular meetings open to all students, and supported the local community by leading sports camps and donating sports equipment to underserved groups. They welcome everyone, but simply ask their leaders to embrace their core religious beliefs.

In 2019, after years of strong relationships with local school leaders, FCA clubs were removed from San Jose high schools and faced harassment and protests simply because the clubs asked their student leaders to agree with their faith.

After a lower court sided with the school district, FCA successfully defended its ability to meet on campus in a federal appeals court last year. However, a few months later, the school district took the case into overtime - asking the appeals court to hear the case again, but this time before a panel of eleven federal judges (a process called an “en banc” rehearing).   

The Ninth Circuit has now ruled that “anti-discrimination laws and the protections of the Constitution work in tandem to protect minority views in the face of dominant public opinion,” and that the District had regrettably used a discriminatory “double standard” against FCA that failed to “treat[] FCA like comparable secular groups” and instead “penalized it based on its religious beliefs.”

The Court explained that, just as it makes sense that the “Senior Women club” would have all-female members, or that honors clubs would set standards of “good moral character” for their members, “it makes equal sense that a religious group be allowed to require that its leaders agree with the group’s most fundamental beliefs.” The Court concluded that “the First Amendment ‘counsel[s] mutual respect and tolerance for religious and non-religious views alike,’” requiring that FCA must be treated equally once again.

Today’s ruling ensures FCA will once again be treated equally and can return to campus for prayer, service, and ministry.

On a more global level, this high level ruling establishes that FCA and similar religious clubs do not have to give up their faith to have equal access to campus.

FCA is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Christian Legal Society, and Christopher Schweickert of Seto Wood & Schweickert LLP.

“Today’s ruling ensures religious students are again treated fairly in San Jose and throughout California," said Daniel Blomberg, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. 

“Public schools should respect every student’s religious beliefs and treat every student with dignity,” said Steve McFarland, director of the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom. “We are grateful the court has reaffirmed this foundational right of every student.” 

The Washington, D.C.-based Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, represented by Attorney Howard Slugh Esq. submitted an amicus curiae brief on the case.

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