LOS ANGELES – At the Mission Viejo High School in Southern California, you won't see kids rushing off to Key Club meetings or preparing posters for Students Against Drunk Driving rallies. In fact, you won't see any clubs at all that aren't related to the school curriculum.
The reason: The Saddle Valley Unified School District doesn't want to have to let in a Christian club.
"Their true colors have shown they just don't want Christians on campus," said John Mendoza, attorney for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
About six years ago, when the school district first allowed "service clubs," or extracurricular groups not related to the curriculum, students in the fellowship tried to practice the same privileges other clubs enjoyed at the high school. Before that, they had been forced to hold their meetings off campus.
"The main thing we wanted was recognition, to be able to pass out flyers, to be able to say things on the announcements," club member Tiffany Simpson said.
But they quickly found that the school board was opposed to the idea of a Christian student organization on campus during school hours.
"Our concern is some of those interests represent opinions and beliefs that we feel are counterproductive with respect to our students," School District Superintendent Bill Manahan said.
"A couple of years ago we had a charter petition for a homosexual club to meet. Now, obviously, that is not related to our curriculum. And we denied it. That's an example of these other interests that ... we don't feel are appropriate to have on a daily basis ... paid for with facilities provided by the school district, [with] an advisor that is paid for by the district. We just don't think that's appropriate."
The fellowship filed a lawsuit, and when a state appeals court ruled that the student religious group had as much right to school space as any other non-curriculum club, Simpson and her friends thought they could breathe easy. But then the school administration dashed their hopes by sticking to the letter of the court decision — by barring all similar clubs along with their own.
"The Christian Club has no relationship to the curriculum according to the opinion of the court," Manahan said. "Either you allow both of them to meet or none of them to meet. And we have chosen none of them will meet."
Now groups like the Girls League and Multicultural Club have to share the same fate as the Christian athletes. The new rule has hit 29 clubs on four of the school district's campuses.
"As much as we like our service clubs and think they are one of the best things going on on the campus, we are still going to have to go by what the law is," Manahan said.
Some in the community are grumbling that it's political correctness run amok, or just plain stubbornness on the part of the board. When parents complained, one board member told the school newspaper, "Blame the Christians."
Constitutional lawyer and Orange County community leader Hugh Hewitt in Orange County sided with the critics.
"Rather than admit they're wrong, say they're sorry and get on with life, the school board has decided to compound the error by banning all of the clubs, to continue the discrimination," Hewitt said.