The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) is an international religious ministry with student groups worldwide. FCA student leaders must adhere to the organization’s Statement of Faith and Sexual Purity Statement, which declares sex outside of heterosexual marriage as alternative lifestyle not acceptable to God. Two members of the FCA at Pioneer High School sued the San Jose Unified School District Board of Education and several other school officials after FCA was denied recognition under the district’s nondiscrimination policies, which forbade discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Two members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) at Pioneer High School in San Jose California filed suit against the San Jose Unified School District Board of Education and several school officials after FCA was denied recognition due to the school’s nondiscrimination policy. The plaintiffs have since graduated high school.
FCA is an international religious ministry with student organizations worldwide. Student leaders must abide by a Statement of Faith and Sexual Purity Statement. These statements include provisions that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is an “impure lifestyle.” However, FCA stated that it would allow those who disagree or do not abide by the statements to attend and participate in its meetings and membership, with the exception of leading clubs.
In May 2019, after a complaint by a teacher, the principal of Pioneer High School informed the FCA club there that the school would no longer recognize the chapter because the district’s non-discrimination policy forbade discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in programs and activities. Soon afterwards, FCA leaders at two other schools in the district were informed that their chapters would no longer be recognized. Loss of recognition from the school means clubs may not have access to a faculty advisor or Associated Student Body (ASB) funds.
In response, on April 22, 2020, the plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, seeking monetary damages and asserting their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, Equal Access Act, and First Amendment were violated by the schools’ actions. The plaintiffs asserted that the school district targeted the FCA with selective enforcement of the nondiscrimination policy out of religious animus.
Attempts at mediation failed, and after multiple rounds of briefing, the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction on June 1, 2022. The plaintiffs then appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The League of Women Voters of the United States, together with 20 other organizations, joined an amicus brief led by the National Women’s Law Center in support of the defendants on July 26, 2022. The brief urged the court to uphold the District Court’s denial of a preliminary injunction, arguing that the schools had no obligation to recognize clubs excluding LGBTQIA+ students from leadership and that doing so could overturn numerous Ninth Circuit precedents upholding nondiscrimination policies and create serious conflicts with other civil rights protections.
On August 29, 2022, the Ninth Circuit overturned the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction, ruling that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in asserting selective enforcement of school policies under its Free Exercise Clause claim. In a 2-1 ruling, the majority found the school districts had enforced its non-discrimination policy against the plaintiffs, while not doing so against other clubs that had allegedly facially discriminatory membership criteria.
The League was represented by the National Women’s Law Center and Debevoise and Plimpton LLP.
Plaintiffs file complaint
The plaintiffs file suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, asserting their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, Equal Access Act, and First Amendment were violated by the schools’ revocation of recognition of the FCA.
Plaintiffs file first amended complaint
San Jose Unified files Motion to Dismiss
The defendants move to dismiss the complaint, arguing the plaintiffs have neither standing to bring the case nor a valid cause of action. The defendants also asserted immunity from civil suit under qualified immunity, the Coverdell Teacher Protection Act, and the Eleventh Amendment.
District Court partially grants defendants’ motion to dismiss
The court denies the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim for monetary damages against several defendants in their personal capacity, but grants the motion for all of plaintiffs’ remaining claims.
Plaintiffs file second amended complaint
Plaintiffs file third amended complaint
Plaintiffs file for preliminary injunction
District Court denies plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction
The court denies the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, finding they did not prove the laws and facts supported their claims of selective relief, and that the balance of equities was not so favorable to plaintiffs to justify issuing a mandatory preliminary injunction.
Plaintiffs appeal the District Court's ruling
LWVUS files its amicus brief
The League of Women Voters of the United States joins an amicus brief led by the National Women’s Law Center urging the Ninth Circuit to affirm the District Court’s denial of a preliminary injunction, citing the need to prevent conflict with civil rights laws and preserve precedent.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reverses the district court's ruling
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reverses the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction, finding that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their claim of selective enforcement of school nondiscrimination in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals conducts en banc hearing
The school district moves for an en banc rehearing of the appeal. In the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, an en banc hearing consists of a panel of eleven judges, reviewing the three-judge panel's prior ruling. The court grants the appeal and holds oral arguments.