HOW TO START A BIBLE CLUB IN A PUBLIC SCHOOL
The United States Supreme Court, in a decision dated June 4, 1990 (Board of Education vs. Mergens), upheld the constitutionality of Public Law No. 98-377, known as the Equal Access Act. This act makes it unlawful for any public secondary school that has a “limited open forum” to deny equal access to any students who wish to hold meetings that are religious in nature. (See the accompanying description of this law.)
What is a “limited open forum”? According to the Christian Law Association, a high school operates under “limited open forum” if it grants an opportunity for one or more noncurriculum-related student groups to meet on school grounds during noninstructional time. A noncurriculum related student group is a club or group, like a chess club, whose activities are not directly related to the school curriculum.
This means your school is probably open to a Bible club. All that’s lacking is you. Here’s how you can start a Bible club in your high school:
1. Write a letter to the school principal asking for permission to establish a Bible club and to use school property for the meetings. (See the accompanying sample.)
2. If permission is granted, God bless you! Remember that no employees of the school may attend the meetings in any but a “nonparticipatory capacity.” This means a teacher may be at the meeting to protect the school’s property. A Christian teacher may want to volunteer to do this, but he may not participate in the actual meeting. You also need to remember that “nonschool persons” may not “direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend” the Bible club. This restriction probably would not prohibit an occasional guest speaker.
3. If permission is not granted, don’t give up. Respectfully and in writing request a copy of the school’s written policy about student activities before and after school hours.
4. Make a list of all student clubs and meetings that do not relate to the school’s curriculum. This will include such groups as the chess club, a scuba diving club, a Dungeons and Dragons club , and the like.
5. As soon as the student has received a copy of the school’s policy and has compiled a list of the extracurricular clubs, send the information to Gibbs & Craze Co., L.P.A., Attorneys and Counselors at Law, 199E Gateway Avenue, Conneaut, OH 44030. Attorneys will write to the school district, outlining the current state of the law after the Mergens case, and try to persuade the school to permit the club.
BIBLE CLUBS AND THE EQUAL ACCESS ACT
The Equal Access Act authorizes a Bible club as a Limited open forum if the school uniformly provides that:
1. the meeting is voluntary and student initiated;
2. there is no sponsorship of the meeting by the school, the government, or its agents or employees;
3. employees or agents of the school or government are present at the religious meetings only in a nonparticipatory capacity;
4. the meeting does not materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school; and
5. nonschool persons do not direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend activities of student groups.
The key conditions for starting a Bible club are that the club must be student initiated and student controlled. Thus a local church could not start a Bible club in the public school; only students may start and control the club.
SAMPLE LETTER TO PRINCIPAL
Dear Principal Smith:
This letter is to obtain your permission for me and other students to establish a Bible club at West High School. Attendance at the Bible club will be voluntary and no teachers or school staff will in any way sponsor or control the club.
Our plan is to meet for thirty minutes immediately after school every Thursday. We will read a portion of Scripture, take any special prayer requests that are on the students’ hearts, and pray. We do not intend in any way to interfere with classes being conducted, and controlled by students at this school. Periodically, we may ask a guest lecturer to present a short devotion, but this nonschool person will not regularly attend the club.
As you know, there are a variety of noncurriculum-related clubs that meet outside of school hours on school property. They add valuable activities to the excellent education being offered at West High School. We hope that our Bible club will also be a valuable addition for those students who count Christ a vital part of their lives.
We hope to hear soon from you about our request to establish a Bible club on Thursday afternoons.
(The above material was prepared and submitted by the General Youth Division.)
Christian Information Network