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Court won’t get involved in Bible club question

SEATTLE — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to stop the Kent School District from blocking a group of Christian students from forming a Bible club on a high school campus.

The court refused to hear an appeal from the high school students who wanted to form the Truth Bible Club at Kentridge High School in Washington state in 2001.

The Associated Student Body council refused to let the group be chartered as a school club. It cited the group’s name and the fact that students would have to pledge to Jesus Christ to vote in the club, and it argued that allowing the club would bring religion into the school. The club’s would-be founders then sued the Kent School District, claiming discrimination.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the district did not violate the students’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to allow all students full membership in their club.

Tim Chandler, an attorney with Alliance Defense Fund which represents the Bible club, said the group was disappointed with the ruling and will continue to fight on behalf of the students.

It will look more closely at district’s nondiscrimination policy to make sure it has been applied equally, he said.

Michael Tierney, a Mercer Island attorney representing the school district, said the case focused on a narrow section of an evolving area of law.

“I think there’s an image of this case that’s a lot broader than it really is,” Tierney said Monday.

The decision does not block the formation of Bible clubs — several schools in the Kent district have them. It does not prevent the Truth Bible Club from meeting on school property — almost any group can meet on school property, including religious groups.

Rather, Tierney said, the decision allows the student council to refuse to make the Bible group an official student organization, with all the trappings of that status including access to student government money.

The school district says all official student groups must be open to all, without requiring a religious membership pledge or adherence to a Christian code of conduct as the Truth Bible Club was proposing for its voting members.

Tierney said the district doesn’t consider the Supreme Court decision to be a win or loss. Instead, he said it was looking for guidance on what it should do.

“The school district is going to do whatever the courts tell them it’s supposed to do,” he said.

The case is Truth v. Kent School District, 08-1130, and Kent School District v. Truth, 08-1268.