Court Forces Michigan High School to Give Equal Rights to Bible Club

The Thomas More Law Center announced that US District Judge Victoria A. Roberts has entered a permanent injunction granting equal rights to a Bible club and its members at Farmington High School in Farmington, Michigan.

The Law Center represents ALIVE, a voluntary student Bible club, its president and co-founder, Aaron Grider, and his parents. In 2006, Grider had requested that ALIVE be recognized by the school as a noncurriculum-related student group and receive the same treatment and benefits that other noncurriculum-related student groups receive at Farmington High School. In the past, Farmington High School has recognized several noncurriculum-related student groups, including the Gay Straight Alliance, R.E.A.C.H. (a diversity club), and S.A.D.D. (Students Against Drunk Driving).

School officials denied Aaron's request. Unlike recognized noncurriculum-related student clubs, school officials allowed ALIVE to meet informally before school, but did not allow ALIVE to advertise over the school's public address system, on the school's bulletin boards, on the school's website, in the school's yearbook, or over the school's internal television network, and they did not allow the club to use the school's photocopying machines.

The Law Center filed a lawsuit in federal court in Detroit, Michigan, and raised claims that school officials had violated plaintiffs' rights under the Federal Equal Access Act, the Michigan Equal Access Act, and the federal constitution.

Before the start of the school year, which began on September 4, 2007, plaintiffs filed motions seeking a court injunction to ensure that ALIVE and its members would be treated the same as other noncurriculum-related groups are treated at Farmington High School.

Last week, Judge Roberts issued a permanent injunction in favor of plaintiffs and required school officials to provide ALIVE the same benefits, treatment, and privileges enjoyed by other noncurriculum-related student clubs.

According to Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, "The judge's order should highlight to all school officials in Michigan and in other states that once a public high school allows one noncurriculum-related student club to meet on campus, they cannot discriminate against a Bible club. A Bible club must be permitted the same rights as other student clubs."

Judge Roberts determined that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims under the Federal and Michigan Equal Access Acts, and, therefore, she did not need to consider the constitutional claims. Judge Roberts stated that "it appears clear that ALIVE has been treated differently than other student groups ‘on the basis of' the religious content of their speech."

Judge Roberts also determined that because plaintiffs have been denied equal access to the school in violation of the Federal Equal Access Act, based on plaintiffs' religious viewpoint since at least October 2006, that the plaintiffs would be irreparably harmed this school year without an injunction to ensure that their rights as a club are protected.

Commented Edward L. White III, trial counsel for the Thomas More Law Center handling the case: "Judge Roberts's permanent injunction will protect the rights of ALIVE and its members this school year and thereafter. These students will be able to enjoy all the benefits that other noncurriculum-related student clubs enjoy at Farmington High School."

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