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Placentia School's Bible-Club Ban Fought

February 07, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

A legal group that two years ago forced a south Orange County school district to reverse its ban on Christian clubs now is challenging a similar policy at a Placentia high school.

Students have been barred from starting a Bible club at El Dorado High. Placentia-Yorba Linda School District officials say that because they allow only curriculum-related groups, they need not add others.

Lawyers with the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, however, say El Dorado does allow groups such as the Key Club that aren't tied to academics. That means the district must follow the federal Equal Access Act and let all groups meet, they said.

The nonprofit group sent a certified letter Wednesday to both the Placentia school and the district office demanding that Bible clubs be permitted to meet, lawyers said Thursday. A press release about the dispute was sent to news organizations.

District officials had not received the letter but said campus clubs must be curriculum-based, and justifications are required each year to ensure that they remain so.

"The next step for us, after receiving this letter, is to look at our policy and see if there is an issue with any of our student clubs that needs to be reviewed," district spokeswoman Rosemary Gladden said.

Institute lawyer Brad Dacus said Thursday that he hopes for an out-of-court solution.

After a suit filed by the institute in 2001, Saddleback Valley Unified School District banned 29 nonacademic groups rather than recognize a religious one. The board reversed the policy three months later.

Dacus said the institute contacted the Placentia-Yorba Linda district directly to induce it to open its schools to all organizations, not so that the status of some, such as the Key Club, would be revoked.

"We've been down that road before with Saddleback," he said. "What we want is for districts to not discriminate against any group of students."

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