Fellowship of Christian Athletes v. San Jose Unified School District Board of Education


Case Overview

FIRE Victory closed

For years, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes operated as a recognized student group at several high schools within the San Jose Unified School District (CA). In 2019, that came to an end when a teacher protested the group’s requirement that its student leaders affirm their commitment to its core religious values. The school district revoked the group’s recognition, claiming its leadership requirement violated the district’s non-discrimination policy, which forbids student groups from excluding members or leaders on the basis of protected status or belief. However, the school district recognized several other student groups who catered to students of a certain gender, national origin, or belief system. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes sought an order from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California directing the school district to recognize the group. The district court declined to issue such an order and the group appealed.

On July 5, 2022, FIRE filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit urging the appellate court to reverse the district court’s decision. FIRE’s brief argued that the school district’s refusal to recognize the group and its selective enforcement of its policy constituted impermissible viewpoint discrimination prohibited by the First Amendment. As FIRE explained, administrators across the country continue to uniquely burden student groups that espouse minority or unpopular viewpoints in both public grade schools and on college campuses—often using expansive non-discrimination policies to deny certain organizations recognition or funding. FIRE urged the Ninth Circuit to issue a decision that offers the judicial clarity needed to protect minority views and prevent viewpoint discrimination from continuing to proliferate public schools and universities.

On August 29, 2022, a panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of FCA, but the opinion was later vacated when the case went en banc. On February 22, 2023, FIRE submitted another amicus brief in support of FCA at the en banc stage urging the full court to affirm the earlier panel ruling, particularly in light of research from FIRE demonstrating the prevalence of self-censorship on campus. On September 13, 2023, the en banc Ninth Circuit again ruled in favor of FCA, holding that the club had the right to be officially recognized under the First Amendment.