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Robertson Group Challenges Denial of High School Bible Club

February 16, 1994

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ A conservative legal rights group founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson started a nationwide legal campaign today against schools that bar students from forming Bible clubs.

The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Robertson as a conservative rival of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit in federal court against Smithfield High School and its parent Isle of Wight County School Board as part of a ″nationwide legal assault.″

The center is reviewing as many as 85 cases in 28 states involving school decisions denying Bible club activities, said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the group.

″Students here in Virginia and elsewhere are not going to be denied their rights simply because they choose to speak out on religion,″ he said.

Two Smithfield High students, Jackie Marie Ferguson and Shauna Jones, said they were not allowed to form a Bible club at the school.

Federal law requires schools to allow religion-based clubs if other noncurriculum organizations are permitted.

H. Woodrow Crook, an attorney for the Isle of Wight school system, said the Smithfield school does not allow clubs that aren’t based on its curriculum.

The issue raised by the ACLJ involves whether language and science clubs, for example, should be viewed as curriculum or noncurriculum groups.

Sekulow said the cases stem from a combination of confusion by school administrators over what forms of religious expression are allowed and hostility in some places against students trying to exercise their rights.

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