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The Federal Equal Access Act

If you’ve tried to start a pro-life club in your school and have been told that you cannot do it because this type of club is not allowed, you’ve been given the wrong information.  In 1984, congress passed the Federal Equal Access Act.

The Act provides that if a school receives federal funding and has at least one student led non-curriculum club (e.g.: chess, Gay Straight Alliance, drama, 4H) that meets outside of class time, it must allow additional such clubs to be organized, and must give them equal access to meeting spaces and school publications. Exceptions can be made for groups that are disruptive, or "materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school."  However, a school can technically "opt out" of the act by prohibiting all non-curriculum clubs.

Schools must allow any non-curriculum clubs to organize with the following conditions:

  • Attendance is voluntary
  • The group is student initiated
  • It is not sponsored by the school, by teachers, by other school employees or by the government
  • School employees cannot promote, lead or participate, but may be assigned to a group for “custodial purposes.”
  • Persons from the community may not direct, conduct, control or regularly attend activities of student groups.

Schools are required to treat all non-curriculum clubs equally:

  • Clubs must have equal access to meeting spaces, the PA system, school periodicals, bulletin board space, etc.
  • School officials can monitor the meetings
  • Clubs must be non-discriminatory, however, the courts ruled that religious clubs can discriminate against persons of other faiths in the selection of officers
  • Schools have the right to require all clubs to follow a set of guidelines
  • Schools can limit meeting times and locations, but have to do this for all clubs
  • Schools can prohibit people from the community from attending student clubs, but must do this for all clubs.

 

This act was challenged in 1990, and was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1990 in the case of  Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, and the school was ordered to allow a student Christian group to meet.

If you face any challenges in trying to start a pro-life youth club, please contact the executive director at Youth for Life of Northeast Ohio for assistance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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