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3 Tips to understanding student-led Jesus meetings in public schools

By May 15, 2019 FP Tools

How can we share Jesus in the school when there is no prayer allowed? Simple: It’s the law! The Equal Access Act became law in 1984 and was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1990. There are 3 major components of the law:

  1. Nondiscrimination: if a public secondary (middle/high) school allows non-curriculum, student-led meetings, then the school must treat all meetings equally – even Christian ones.
  2. Student-initiated, student-led meetings: In order for the meetings to be deemed lawful at a public middle or high school, meetings must be student-initiated and student-led.
  3. Local control: the act does not limit authority of the school leadership to maintain control.

The following are the some of the guidelines set out by the Equal Access Act:

  • Federally funded, secondary schools must allow students the right to hold meetings if the campus has a limited open forum policy (more than one student meeting is allowed)
  • The meetings are voluntary and student-initiated
  • There is no sponsorship of the club by the school or government
  • Employees of the school are only present at religious meetings in a non-participatory capacity
  • The meeting does not interfere with orderly conduct or educational activities within the school
  • Non-school persons may not direct, conduct, control or regularly attend activities of student groups

Definition of terms:

  • The term “meeting” refers to student groups and activities permitted in the limited open forum and are not directly related to school curriculum
  • The term “sponsorship” refers to school employee assigned to meetings for the purpose of providing custodial provision
  • The terms “non-instructional time  refer to time set aside by the school before actual classroom instruction begins and ends
  • The terms “student-initiated” refer to students seeking permission to meet; and to directing and controlling the meetings

Important points to consider:

  • The school’s authority has the right to establish the regulations for if, when and where the meetings will occur; the key is nondiscrimination
  • Schools may allow students to promote meetings through school media if other meetings are being promoted
  • Outsiders may attend meetings if invited by students and approved by the school authority; the school authority has the right to limit or deny access of outsiders; outsiders are not permitted to proselytize students who are not voluntarily attending the student meeting

For more information on the Equal Access Act, please visit: http://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/publications/first/findingcommonground/B09.StudentClubs.pdf

This flyer was created for First Priority of Tampa Bay; information is provided by Freedomforum.org

Brad Schelling

Author Brad Schelling

Brad's passion for First Priority is how the legal side of a faith-based club at school is navigated. Solving the problem is 100% relational and 110% being above reproach with the laws of the state and district. He has been in student ministry since 1997, served as a First Priority campus coach in Sioux Falls, SD starting in 2001 and joined staff with FPoA in 2008. He helped get FP of the Great Plains (SD/IA) off the ground before moving his family to Nashville, TN in 2011 to be strategic in his work with First Priority. Brad, with his wife Erika and four children, attend Church of the City in Spring Hill. Brad is available and would be honored to speak at your church, camp, conference or event. You can get in touch with him through email at brad@fpofamerica.com

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