Local School Denies Student Creationism Club

I find this really odd. Hudsonville Public Schools, just outside Grand Rapids, a very heavily Christian conservative community, is apparently refusing to recognize a student Creation Club group. If they don’t recognize it, that’s a clear violation of federal law.

Hudsonville Public Schools refusal to recognize the formation of a religious-based student club is being called discriminatory and in violation of the students’ First Amendment rights.

The Center for Religious Expression, a non-profit public interest law firm based in Memphis, Tenn., sent a letter to Superintendent Nick Ceglarek and high school Principal Dave Feenstra demanding that an extracurricular club, called Creation Club, be formally recognized by school officials.

The group discusses and critically analyzes evolutionary theory and other theories about Earth’s origin from religious perspectives, according to the May 28 letter from the religious advocates. The letter states that Hudsonville High School has “so far” refused to recognize the Creation Club due to “unfounded fears about instruction in creationism.”

“The situation is troubling,” the firm’s chief counsel Nate Kellum wrote in the three-page letter. “Your high school officially recognizes a multitude of extracurricular clubs. The refusal to recognize the Creation Club due to potential objections to the views of the club violates the both the Equal Access Act and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

Kellum is right. The Equal Access Act forbids secondary schools from refusing to recognize a student group on the basis of viewpoint. This is the same law that requires schools to treat SSA groups or Gay-Straight Alliance clubs the same way they treat other groups.

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  • D. C. Sessions

    No matter how often the ACLU and secular law organizations go to bat for groups like this, the right wing (and not just the religious fringe) will never believe it.

    As in, I’ve shown people ranting about the ACLU actual court cases, downloadable from the court’s own PACER site (back when you could) where the ACLU defended Christian expression in schools, and they still insisted that it never happened.

    Give it up, Ed. The denialism is strong in these ones.

  • eric

    If they’re concerned about it being seen as instruction, assign a teacher who is not a creationist to be the sponsor. No, I’m *not* suggesting a teacher who will try and convince them creationism is wrong. I’m suggesting they pick a teacher who will stick to actual sponsor duties such as helping the kids find rooms to meet in etc.. rather than participating in the substantive club activities, which is not what they are supposed to do anyway.

  • carpenterman

    This is why it’s hard to be a liberal. You have to stand up for peoples’ rights and equal protection under the law, even when they’re doing something that threatens to make your head explode. It must be nice to be able to dismiss anyone who doesn’t think just like you with a shrug and a , “Well, they’re wrong, so who cares what happens to them?” So much easier.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    Typical ACLU! They conned Hudsonville to be the innocent dupes in their false-flag operation! This is just a ruse to get Sharia and/or communism imposed!!

  • Chiroptera

    Re: some of the previous comment.

    I’m feeling kind of dumb, but I can’t see where the ACLU is mention in either the OP or in the linked article. Are commenters referring to the precedents that the Center for Religious Expression will undoubtedly cite?

    PS: Fun fact: my spell check thinks “commenter” is okay, but flags “commenters.”

  • grumpyoldfart

    It’s not religious instruction until they take up a collection.

  • llewelly

    I do wonder if the school administrators viewed the club as being the wrong brand of creationism, or if they were afraid it would attract attacks from anti-creationists.

  • abb3w

    @0, Ed Brayton

    The Equal Access Act forbids secondary schools from refusing to recognize a student group on the basis of viewpoint.

    Although, that observation seems to neglect Morse v Frederick (aka “Bong hits for Jesus”). This is not exactly the most shining of court precedents to be citing, I admit; it takes a more narrow view of the protections of the First Amendment than Ed and much of the Dispatches commentariat prefer. Worse, Alito’s concurrence plus the political leanings of the other Justices of its majority would seem to leave them likely to look more favorably in instances associated to (conventionally Christian) religious expression.

    However, the apparent purpose seems the promulgation of creationism over evolution — and in particular, specifically contradicting significant portions of section B5 of the Michigan state science standards. Given the history of evangelicals, it would seem the school might reasonably infer that there is a non-trivial chance that the club will “materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school“. Administrators might thus have a valid concern, which legal counsel might (if a damn fool) have advised could be basis for restricting the club under Morse v Frederick.

    Contrariwise, it’s probably prior restraint to refuse them permission before substantial interference is demonstrated. Given that, and the severe caveats to applying Morse v Frederick, it would seem a better course would have been to grant permission… and then draw up a policy statement for all clubs, to the effect that clubs agree that their members’ club-related conduct shall not materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school, and acknowledging that the club may forfeit its right to meet if their officers or members establish a pattern of violating this rule. Then wait for the inevitable disruptions by these clowns in biology classes, suspend recognition of the club on that basis for the remainder of the school year, wait for the inevitable repeat, suspend recognition of the club until its entire membership at that time has graduated or left, wait for the inevitable repeat, prohibit the club until the current Kindergarden class graduates high school… and by that time, demographic shifts may well render the question moot even in Michigan.

    Nohow, I’m not a lawyer, and this school sure hasn’t asked for my advice.

  • eric


    I’m feeling kind of dumb, but I can’t see where the ACLU is mention in either the OP or in the linked article.

    It isn’t (AFAIK); I mentioned them in my post simply because they are the first group that springs to my mind when these sorts of legal issues come up.

  • dingojack

    IANAL, but didn’t Morse v Frederick revolve, not around the issue of religion, but of encouraging an illegal activity? [Jesus can get a blow-job, just not ‘bong hits’].


  • Michael Heath

    A good teacher/sponsor would be one with sufficiently cognizant critical thinking abilities in order to teach those skills to other people. That sponsor could then guide the students process in regards to their:

    a) understanding and presenting their assumptions

    b) framing their arguments,

    c) developing factual premises within their assumptions and framework,

    d) discarding with non-factual premises,

    e) repeatedly scrutinizing the validity of their assumptions and framework and then finally,

    e) developing their [cogent] conclusions.

    I think the process of thinking critically results in an empty set of cogent creationist arguments; I’ve yet to be exposed to one. But that wouldn’t be the teacher-sponsor’s fault. That’s even before one then starts to consider the best arguments the relevant scientists have aggregated regarding certain sub-topics related to both evolution and creationism.

    I present this here because I think one of the primary obligations of public teachers is to teach students how to think critically. That where it’s long been my personal observation that teachers as a population of professionals have some of the worst critical thinking skills of any profession I’ve encountered.

    So consider the utility of creationist students being influenced by a teacher who has and can teach critical thinking. It’d be a big win/win for the student and society in general. Their authoritarian parents, the GOP, and the leaders/members of religious fundamentalists sects – not so much.

  • abb3w


    IANAL, but didn’t Morse v Frederick revolve, not around the issue of religion, but of encouraging an illegal activity?

    Yep; which indicates the courts have recognized one area where schools may lawfully place limits to student expression. Ergo, it provides an existence example, which leaves open the inductive possibility to there being other instances where schools may lawfully place such limits.

    I’d be inclined to suspect that if an Alchemy club formed, and its members started disrupting chemistry classes, there would seem similar grounds for limiting their activities due to the negative impact on the school’s primary educational mission… eventually. However, lacking even creationists’ history of associated disruptions, restricting the Alchemy Club would almost certainly be impermissible prior restraint. In contrast, a student chapter of the Klu Klux Klan might be more easily banned preemptively, given to the history of violence and racism associated with the organization.

    That said, it’s entirely plausible to suggest that the courts might rule to allow schools to such limiting only in narrow circumstances, such as where there is advocacy of unlawful (or even felonious) activity. Alito’s concurrence seems to suggest that the political nature of curriculum choice indicates that he might not consider it legitimate for schools to restrict clubs merely for rejecting some part of the curriculum. It’s possible he foresaw this sort of consequence.

  • John Pieret

    abb3w @ 12:

    According to the original article, the school is allowing the club to operate as a student-led group. The school pleads poverty for being unable to pay $500-$1,000 a year to a club advisor. But since they are allowing on school grounds, they’d have a problem claiming it is disrupting the school’s curriculum.

  • eric

    @11: I could be wrong, but IMO that isn’t really the job of sponsor. The sponsor’s job is basically to help the students organize and run the club successfully. Help them find rooms and times. Be there to adjudicate any disputes between students. The students are supposed to do ALL the content. A Creationist club sponsor should no more lead the group in critical thinking about creationism or suggest books on it, than a Christian fellowship sponsor should lead prayer and suggest speakers. AIUI, the chess club sponsor doesn’t have to know diddly-squat about chess to do their job; their primary job (AIUI) is to make sure the students aren’t stealing clocks from the school or flinging pieces at each other. Anything else is ‘bonus’ – or, in the case of a religiously-themed club – a potential minefield.

  • frankgturner

    I say let them have their club. Let them use the biology classroom at the same time as the paleontology club. Nothing like a few fossils staring denialists in the face. (FYI, I am joking).


    Seriously though, @ carpenterman #3.

    That does kind of suck but it is hard to take the moral high ground (so to speak) sometimes. Freedom to express ourselves means them being free to express themselves too. In a free market of ideas, others need to be allowed to sell theirs too (even if the ideas smell of bullshit).

  • neXus

    I have a question about the equal access clause. What are the limitations on groups that can form in schools? As an example, if a pro-KKK group wanted to form on a school campus, could they be prevented from doing so? While I could see the equal protection clause applying to such a group, would the possible threat of violence to other students be a mitigating factor?

    I freely profess ignorance on this issue, so I’d appreciate any enlightenment on the subject I could get. Thanks!