Reacting against the intent of the federal Equal Access Act, the Boulder, Colorado, school board has banned open forums in local public high schools. The school board prohibited any student-initiated group from meeting on school grounds unless it is school-sponsored and directly related to curriculum offerings.
When the Boulder school board unanimously approved the new policy, it found itself opposing two unlikely allies: a group of students who desired to meet for prayer before school twice a week, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). A Boulder spokesman for the ACLU defended the Equal Access Act as being constitutional, emphasizing that it should be exercised with care.
Congress passed the equal-access legislation last year to assure high school students the right to assemble on school property—during designated times for extracurricular pursuits—without regard for their reason for meeting. By having an “activities period,” Congress reasoned, the school created a “limited open forum” and could not discriminate against students desiring to meet for prayer or Bible study.
In December, the Boulder school board carried this aspect of the act to its logical extreme. The board declared that it would not permit any sort of “open forum.” The school board said it would countenance only curriculum-related groups whose “function is to enhance the participants’ educational experience and supplement the course materials [at school].” Thus, a foreign-language club would be protected, while a chess club would not.
Board members acted on the advice of attorney Gerald Caplan, who says the Equal Access Act is unconstitutional. The law has not yet been tested in court, but the U.S. Supreme Court was expected to decide in mid-January ...1
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