For over a year, administrators at a North Carolina high school have allegedly told students they could not form a secular student group because it would not “fit in” at the school. Now Pisgah High School in Waynesville, North Carolina may face a legal challenge from First Amendment groups for violating the students’ rights.
Two students hoped to form a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance at Pisgah High, which already has a Fellowship of Christian Athletes. According to a letter complaining of the school’s actions, Assistant Principal Connie Weeks told them the club both would not “fit in” and it could not find a faculty adviser.
The students encountered a resistance that is a frequent problem at public schools. Over the course of a year, the Secular Student Alliance says it receives one complaint about every other week.
According to a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the school’s actions violate a federal law expressly prohibiting religious discrimination of student groups. Under the Equal Access Act, schools receiving federal funds cannot discriminate against groups based on religious or political beliefs. The law states: “It shall be unlawful for any public secondary school … to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting .. on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.”