Do Unto Others ...

        When Congress passed the Equal Access Act in 1984, requiring public schools to respect the First Amendment rights of extra-curricular student groups, it was intent on protecting student religious groups from discrimination.   The Act was, in part, a response to federal court decisions allowing schools to deny equal access to religious groups, in the belief that recognizing them would violate prohibitions on establishing religion.  So, Congress rightly provided that if schools recognize any extra-curricula clubs, they must recognize all clubs regardless of their religious, political, philosophical, or ideological views (unless the groups may be deemed “disruptive,” on other grounds.)

        Conservative Christian groups made good use of this law, obtaining an 8 to 1
Supreme Court decision upholding the mandatory recognition of student religious clubs, (over the opposition of some liberal groups, like People for the American Way.)  So it’s a happy irony that today gay and lesbian students are using the Equal Access Act to gain recognition for their extra-curricular support groups, often over the opposition of conservative Christians.  What don’t they understand about the golden rule?

        Their latest lesson in equality comes from a federal district court in Florida that
Okeechobee High School (OHS) to recognize a student Gay Straight Alliance.  OHS had withheld recognition, claiming that the Alliance was a “sex-based club” and, as such, was not protected by the Equal Access Act, because it was disruptive and interfered with “order and discipline” and efforts to “protect the well being of students and faculty.” The school relied in part on court decisions upholding the power of administrators to deny access to clubs that distributed “obscene or sexually explicit material.”   It also argued that recognizing the Gay Straight Alliance was contrary to the school’s abstinence only policy.
        Put aside the obsession with shielding high school students from sexual explicitness (as if anyone could.)  OHS apparently offered no evidence that the Gay Straight Alliance was, in fact, intent on distributing sexually explicit material or could fairly be called a “sex-based club”  - a label that conjures images of orgies, not discussions about tolerance.  As the District Court stressed, the Alliance’s stated purpose was “to provide a safe, supportive environment for students and to promote tolerance and acceptance of one another, regardless of sexual orientation.”  It takes a prurient mind to equate this effort with the promotion of promiscuity.      

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