Hsu v. Roslyn School District, 85 F.3d 839 (2nd Cir. 1996)
Emily Hsu and several other students of Roslyn High School contacted school officials to request recognition of a newly-forming after-school Bible club in compliance with the Equal Access Act. After months of deliberation and meetings, the school requested a club charter from the students. The charter provided to the school included a section on the requirements of officers, one of which was that all officers of the club had to be professing "Christians." After reviewing the proposed charter, the school board informed the students that they could form the Bible club only after removal of the requirement that club officers be of the Christian faith. The board claimed such provisions violated the anti-discrimination policies of the school district.
Whether denying clubs the right to form on school grounds because they limited leadership positions to members of a particular faith violates the Equal Access Act.
In a 3-0 decision, a Second Circuit panel ruled that limiting leadership of the club to particular categories of people, if relevant to the message and purpose of the club, is a form of expressive activity protected by the Equal Access Act. The school may, however, strike the religion requirement for other leadership positions not central to the identity of the club.
The court passed on the constitutional issues, preferring instead to look to the language and intent of statutory provisions of the Equal Access Act. The court found that the Act was designed to protect religious and political speech by students, and that part of the speech protected involved forming groups for specific purposes. As long as the requirements for leadership reflected the intended speech of the student club, then they were protected. For this reason, the offices of President, Vice-President, and Music Coordinator could have religion requirements. The offices of Social Coordinator and Secretary were not viewed as being as central to the identity and leadership of the club, and the court allowed the school to strike the religion requirements from these positions.
". . .[W]hen the students' desire to hold a meeting covered by the [Equal Access] Act involves a decision not to associate with other students, that decision, depending on its purpose, may constitute an exercise of the students' right of expressive association. On the one hand, an exclusion solely for reasons of hostility or cliquishness, with no direct bearing or effect on the group's speech, does not implicate the right to expressive association. But expressive association is implicated when the decision to exclude is made in order to foster the group's shared interest in particular speech." (Judge Dennis G. Jacobs)
Monday, December 9, 2013 | 20:20:09