Colorado Student’s Parent Allowed to Challenge School Fundraising for Religious Mission Trip

So this case is just a procedural decision (standing), but it has the makings of a very interesting church-and-state case.

A student at a Colorado high school organized a spring-break mission trip to Guatemala through a Christian organization that arranges such mission trips. Two teachers at the high school agreed to chaperone the trip. The student and the teacher-chaperones began fundraising via the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), a non-curricular club at the school.

hrhsfca
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes website at Highlands Ranch High School

Donations were solicited, asking for checks to be made payable to the high school (whereafter they’d be deposited in FCA’s account). They also distributed flyers that stated how the school was “partnering” with FCA. One of the teachers reached out to her colleagues at an elementary school to help organize a “supply drive” for the Guatemala trip. Several of the elementary-school teachers then asked their students’ parents for donations for the supply drive.

Jane Zoe’s son attends the elementary school, and she received the emails and flyers asking for her support for the trip. Jane also learned that faculty advisors at the high school initiate prayers with students at FCA meetings and participate in prayer before school, sometimes using their school email addresses to invite Christian pastors to the school.

Jane sued, arguing that the school district is violating the Establishment Clause. Although the lower District Court found that Jane could not challenge the school’s action, the Tenth Circuit disagreed and will allow the case to go forward to resolve the church-and-state dispute. Updates on this case to follow, for sure.

Case: Am. Humanist Ass’n, Inc. v. Douglas Cty. Sch. Dist. RE-1, No. 16-1049 (10th Cir. June 20, 2017) (opinion here)

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