The U.S. Department of Education has just released legal guidelines regarding the Equal Access Act.
Nothing really changes now, as far as I can tell. But the document and group guide (DOC) reaffirm the right for LGBT and atheist students to start their own clubs in public high schools.
The Act applies to: (1) any public secondary school (2) that receives federal funds (3) and creates a limited open forum by allowing one or more noncurricular student groups to meet on its premises (4) during noninstructional time. Schools meeting these criteria are forbidden to prevent access or deny fair opportunity to students who wish to hold meetings on school grounds.
It doesn’t matter if the group holds an unpopular viewpoint; they still have a right to meet.
Not only that, high school students should be aware they don’t have to call their atheist group a “Philosophy” group because it sounds “nicer”:
The Act requires the school to treat each group like other, similarly situated groups, and prohibits imposing additional requirements on some student-run groups that are not imposed on all others. A school would violate the Act by, for example, requiring a gay-straight alliance to change its name, requiring it to have a faculty adviser when faculty advisers are not generally required for all other groups, or imposing different requirements for the group’s posters, leaflets, and announcements than the school places on other groups’ promotional materials.
As evidenced on your blog and elsewhere, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) and nonreligious students have faced many unlawful challenges from conservative and religious secondary school officials in trying to form extracurricular groups.
The new guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Education are important because they clarify and confirm the federal government’s dedication to ensuring that public schools provide equal access for extracurricular clubs regardless of the students’ religious, political or philosophical views, sexual orientation, or gender identity (note that this also protects students of minority faiths). The guidelines send a strong message to public schools that rejecting or excluding student groups based on any of the aforementioned criteria will put them in violation of the Equal Access Act, and even the First Amendment.
These protections are important not just because they align with equality and free expression, but also because these student groups are essential in the fight against ignorance, bigotry, and discrimination. They provide students a safe place to meet and talk about their beliefs and experiences, and foster public dialogue that serves to break down stereotypes.
It sounds like something so logical that no one could oppose it.
Which is why I’m sure some conservative Christian group will denounce it in 5… 4… 3… 2…