A 14-year-old student reported discrimination at her New York high school, which has prohibited her from creating a religious club to share with other Christian students.
Ketcham High School rejected Daniela’s request to create a Christian club in the same fashion as there are other clubs in the school.
According to a statement by First Liberty Institute lawyer Keisha Russell, the school first ignored Daniela’s request, then said it was ‘lost’ and when it finally ‘found’ it and rejected it for the sole reason that a Christian club was not ‘generic’ enough.
The lawyer for the organization that defends religious freedom sent a letter to the Wappingers Central School District demanding the immediate approval of the request of Ketcham High School freshman Daniela Barca to create a religious club at the school.
In the letter Russell warned that this refusal is clearly discriminatory and violates the Equal Access Act of 1984.
“Wappingers Central school officials engaged in purposeful, intentional religious discrimination against Daniela for months,” Russell said in the statement.
“We hope this school district ends its clearly unlawful behavior and protects the religious liberty of every student in all its schools,” she added.
In its letter to school officials, First Liberty explains that the Equal Access Act prohibits schools from denying the creation of religious clubs on school premises when access is granted to other secular clubs.
“As the U.S. Supreme Court explained, religious clubs must be afforded the same recognition, access, and rights as other non-curricular clubs,” the letter explained.
“It shall be unlawful for any public secondary school, which receives Federal financial assistance and which has a limited open forum to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings,” the letter continued.
Daniela, discouraged by the school’s discrimination said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m the only Christian at my school and I thought others might feel the same way. So, I wanted to start a club at school so we can support each other in our beliefs. I hope the superintendent lets me start the club and does whatever it takes to make sure religious clubs are treated like all the other clubs.”
Religious freedom in danger around the world
There is a very marked and progressive trend of discrimination against religious groups, especially Christians in the case of the United States, but also at the global level affecting different faiths.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, during the decade from 2007 to 2017, government restrictions on religion (laws, policies, and actions of state officials that restrict religious beliefs and practices) increased around the world.
Social hostilities related to religion, including violence and harassment by individuals, organizations or groups, have also increased since 2007.
In fact, the latest data shows that 52 governments, including some in highly populated countries such as China, Indonesia, and Russia, impose “high” or “very high” levels of restrictions on religion, compared to 40 in 2007.
The data also shows that the number of countries where people experience the highest levels of social hostilities related to religion has increased from 39 to 56 in the last decade.
President Trump stands as ‘champ’ of religious freedom
President Donald Trump held an event at the U.N. General Assembly in September that focused exclusively on religious freedom, and he was the first U.S. president to do so.
The event, titled Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom, addressed heads of state, ambassadors, civil society representatives and survivors of religious persecution, reminding attendees of facts related to religious persecution.
“Our founders understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions,” the president said.
“Regrettably, religious freedom enjoyed by American citizens is rare in the world.”
“As we speak, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, many other people of faith are being jailed, sanctioned, tortured, and even murdered even at the hands of their own governments simply for expressing their deeply held religious beliefs,” the president lamented, as he called on world leaders to be more tolerant.
The president also made very clear his position defending religious sentiments in the United States by saying: “The United States is founded on the principle that our rights do not come from government, they come from God. This immortal truth is proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and enshrined in our First Amendment to our Constitution, Bill of Rights.”