May the school exclude any student extracurricular group?

Monday, December 30, 2002

Yes. According to guidelines endorsed by a broad coalition of educational and religious liberty organizations, “student groups that are unlawful, or that materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities, may be excluded. However, a student group cannot be denied equal access simply because its ideas are unpopular. Freedom of speech includes the ideas the majority may find repugnant.” *

Most schools require students to submit a statement outlining the purpose and nature of the proposed club. School officials do not have to allow meetings of groups that advocate violence or hate or engage in illegal activity. This does not mean, however, that schools may bar students from forming clubs to discuss controversial social and legal issues such as abortion or sexual orientation. Again, student-initiated clubs in a limited open forum may not be barred on the basis of the viewpoint of their speech. Some schools require parental permission for students to join an extracurricular club. Although this step is not required by the Equal Access Act, it has enabled schools to keep the forum open in communities where student clubs have sparked controversy.

* “The Equal Access Act: Questions and Answers,” found in Haynes & Thomas, Finding Common Ground (2001).