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Justices Decline Appeal From High School Christian Club

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of a Christian student group that unsuccessfully sought club status at a high school in Washington state.

The action came on a busy last day of the term for the justices, who also declined to accept an appeal in a special education case and issued an important race-discrimination ruling in the case involving the promotions of firefighters in the New Haven, Conn., fire department.

Education Week's Erik Robelen blogged here earlier today about the decision in Ricci v. DeStefano, and I'll have more to say about its implications for school districts a little later today.

As for the Christian club case, the justices were asked to decide whether a group called Truth had a right under the federal Equal Access Act to be recognized at Kentridge High School in the Kent school district in Washington.

The school's student body governing council refused the club's application, citing concerns about its name and the fact that the club would require officers and voting members to sign a statement of Christian faith, which would be a violation of the school district's non-discrimination policy.

Two lower courts ruled for the school district, with a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, holding in a decision last year that the district did not violate the club's rights under the EAA or the First Amendment.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, lawyers for the Truth club said the case raised important questions about whether the Equal Access Act protects the right of student religious groups to the freedom of "expressive association."

The club found support in friend-of-the-court briefs filed by such groups as Campus Crusade for Christ and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which argued that non-discrimination policies can interfere with the core ideologies of student religious groups.

The Kent school district opposed Supreme Court review, but it filed a "conditional" appeal which urged the justices to consider whether the district could be held liable when the district itself did not make the decision to bar the club. But the district also argued that the court should take up that issue only if it accepted the Christian club's appeal.

The justices declined without comment to hear both appeals, Truth v. Kent School District (Case No. 08-1130) and Kent School District v. Truth (No. 08-1268).

In the special education case, the justices declined to hear the appeal of Ohio parents about whether courts may look beyond the "four corners" of a child's individualized education program to determine whether a school district is providing a free, appropriate public education under federal law.

In a decision last October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled for the Parma City, Ohio, school district in a case brought by Jeffrey and Sandee Winkelman on behalf of their son.

The Winkelmans notably won a Supreme Court decision in an earlier stage of their case. In 2007, in Winkelman v. Parma City School District, the justices ruled that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act gives parents independent, enforceable rights to pursue legal action on behalf of their children in special education.

The justices declined without comment to hear the parents' appeal--Winkelman v. Parma City School District (No. 08-1089)--of the ultimate outcome of their case.

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