Elementary School Denies Prayer Club, Welcomes Pride Club

A Washington elementary school has been accused of violating two students’ First Amendment rights after it denied their request to create a prayer club.

The principal told one of the students that the process of creating clubs ended in October.

Despite the claim, the school permitted a Pride club to be formed the same month the two students requested to establish an interfaith prayer club.

First Liberty Institute sent a letter to Creekside Elementary School, saying that the students, referred to as L.A.W. and J.W., “have friends from many different faiths who feel marginalized.”

“L.A.W. has had an especially difficult experience as a religious student in fifth grade. Because of her experience, L.A.W. and J.W. decided to start an interfaith prayer club so that students like her could have a place after school where they feel safe and welcome, and where they can bring students together to serve their community,” First Liberty Institute wrote. “The club would be open to all students, regardless of their faith background, and L.A.W. and J.W. have many ideas for club activities, including prayer and community service.”

The school principal told L.A.W. that she could not have an interfaith student prayer club, but could “fill out an application to pay to use the school after school; I would allow that.”

In March, the principal emphasized, “Per our meeting, we discussed that the process of establishing clubs for this school year has ended as of the end of October. No new clubs are being added at this time.”

“Principal Allison made this statement despite permitting a Pride Club to begin the same month that L.A.W. and J.W. wanted their interfaith prayer club to start meeting,” the legal team explained.

“Thus, Creekside is treating non-religious clubs more favorably than a religious club, which triggers strict scrutiny. The school’s actions of permitting and promoting other clubs while prohibiting L.A.W. and J.W.’s interfaith prayer club also sends a message of hostility to L.A.W., J.W., and other religious students that their voices are not welcome,” the letter adds. “By singling out a religious club and providing it inferior access to school resources than what it provides to other noncurricular groups, the District shows a hostility to religion that violates the Free Exercise Clause.”

“Denying the formation of a religious student club while allowing other clubs violates the Constitution,” said Associate Counsel at First Liberty Institute Kayla Toney. “School officials at Creekside Elementary are engaged in religious discrimination against an eleven-year-old girl who simply wants to pray, feel support from other religious friends, and do community service. In Coach Kennedy’s case just a short drive away in Bremerton, the Supreme Court held that students and staff can pray at school—and to prohibit them violates the First Amendment.”

After a nearly eight-year legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Coach Joe Kennedy’s post-game public prayers were constitutionally protected.

In the court’s decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated, “the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”

“As the Supreme Court’s holding in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District made clear, the First Amendment protects the ability of students and employees to express their faith in public schools,” First Liberty Institute noted in the letter. “The Court in Kennedy explained that the clauses of the First Amendment ‘work in tandem. Where the Free Exercise Clause protects religious exercises, whether communicative or not, the Free Speech Clause provides overlapping protection for expressive religious activities.’ The result is that the First Amendment ‘doubly protects religious speech.’”