A public school in the New York school district has been accused of violating federal law. A nonprofit legal group is representing Daniela Barca, a Christian student whose request to start a student Christian club on-campus was rejected by the school.
On Wednesday, the organization, First Liberty Institute, wrote a letter to the Wappingers Central School District. They demanded that it approve the freshman’s request to start the “OMG! Christian Club” at Roy C. Ketcham High School.
Barca’s club is aimed at offering “faith-based support” to its members. The plan is to have student-initiated biweekly meetings where they will hold “discussions about living for God in a godless society.”
Keisha Russell, a lawyer at First Liberty Institute, wrote a letter to the school stating, “[T]he discrimination toward Daniela’s religious speech has prevented OMG from pursuing their community-wide goals of ‘food drives, clothing drives, Operation Christmas Child’ and other charitable endeavors. Ketcham school officials blatantly ignored the plain text of the Equal Access Act of 1984 by rejecting Daniela’s Christian club because of its religious speech. The act has been unequivocal on this point for 35 years.”
According to EAA, it is unlawful for federally assisted public secondary schools to “deny equal access or fair opportunity” to students who wish to meet in an open forum because of “religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.”
Russell’s letter also stated that on Sept. 5, Barca had contacted the school’s assistant principal, who told her that the application letter had been lost. However, on Sept. 10, the sponsoring teacher told Barca that the form had been found.
The letter expresses that Barca met three times with Principal David Seipp, who then told her that he was denying her request, informing her that her club couldn’t be promoted by the school because others would see it “as exclusive.”
William Barca, the student’s father, wrote an email to Daren Lolkema, Assistant Superintendent for Compliance and Information Systems, appealing the refusal.
Lolkema replied, stating that the school district could not support the club, because it was a religious club that was not “completely unbiased to any and all religions.”
Ketcham High School has over 20 recognized student clubs, including Pride Club, an LGBT rights club.
The organization thus demanded that Barca’s Christian club should be allowed to start meeting. They stated that the meeting should be held no later than Jan. 2, 2020.
Jose Carrion, the District Superintendent, stated that the “district recognizes the rights of student-initiated, noncurricular groups to organize and meet in accordance with the Equal Access Act. We fully anticipate that this matter will be resolved as per the Equal Access Act.