Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and other
controversial student-led groups in public schools
About the federal Equal Access Act.
About the federal Equal Access Act:
Most student-led, special interest, non-curriculum clubs form a valuable component of the educational experience for many high-school students. Students develop leadership skills while organizing and running these clubs. They meet with other students who have simlar interests. They have the opportunity to grow in knowledge and understanding.
Unfortunately, the interests of students are sometimes are not fully accepted by educators or the public:
Most educators are fully aware of the concept of separation of church and state. This has been found by the U.S. Supreme Court to be implicit in the first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Educators in public schools have to be careful that none of their courses advocate:
One religion over other religions,
Secularism over religion, or
Religion over secularism.
Some educators assume that, because of the First Amendment, public schools must be religion-free zones. Thus, when students approach the principal or school board asking for permission to organize a prayer group promoting a single religion, their request is sometimes rejected. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that students do not leave their right to express religious freedom behind when the enter school grounds. The same First Amendment guarantees their right to carry a Bible on board a school bus, to pray in the cafeteria, to pray in school rooms before and after classes. The federal Equal Access act guarantees, with few exceptions, the right of students to organize almost any faith-based club as long as it is legal and non-disruptive.
Other times, students will attempt to organize a controversial group, like a gay-straight alliance (GSA). These are groups where lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender students can meet for mutual support, and to tackle homophobia and transphobia in their school. These are often opposed by religious and social conservatives in the community. Opposition is often based on conservative beliefs that:
Homosexual orientation and behavior is abnormal and unnatural.
One function of these groups is to recruit more young people into homosexuality.
God hates homosexual behavior, and relegates sexually active homosexuals to Hell after death.
A GSA will reinforce the members' acceptance of their sexual orientation and lessen their desire to change.
Religious liberals and professional therapy groups all reject these beliefs. Still, school administrators have to be sensitive to the public's wishes and are often reluctant to authorize GSAs and similar groups.