Student says school wouldn’t let her form Bible club

Monday, February 23, 1998

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) —A high school student has sued the Bethel School District, accusing officials of refusing to allow her to form a Bible club.

Tausha Prince, a 10th-grader from Spanaway Lake High School, and her lawyers filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. district court in Tacoma. The lawsuit contends Bethel officials violated federal law protecting students’ religious speech.

“This kind of thing cannot be tolerated anymore. The law is very clear,” said Don Lawrence, one of Prince’s lawyers. “It seems they’re openly hostile to kids who want to talk about religion.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the school district’s actions unconstitutional.

But school district officials insist they told Prince she could start a Bible club. They say she did not follow through with her request and complete the necessary paperwork.

“Our contention is we’ve done nothing wrong,” said Jay Reifel, an assistant superintendent. “There may have been a misunderstanding with the student and the request.”

Prince and her parents, James and Kimberly Prince, had no comment on the lawsuit.

The complaint was filed on behalf of the Princes by the American Center for Law and Justice—a nonprofit, public interest law firm that focuses on religious civil liberties.

Prince’s lawyers argue that Bethel officials violated Prince’s rights to free speech and equal protection, as well as the Equal Access Act. The act requires schools that receive federal funds and have at least one non-curricular student club allow religious clubs to meet on the same terms, Lawrence said.

The school officially recognizes the Chess Club, Heritage Club and Bowling Club, the lawsuit claims.

The complaint accuses school officials of twice denying Prince’s requests to start a Bible club.

On Oct. 6, Spanaway Lake High School Assistant Principal Bonnie Kenigson told Prince the school would not officially recognize the club because of the separation between government and religion, Lawrence said.

The lawyer also claimed Kenigson told Prince the group could meet after school like other community groups.

“They were saying you can access our facilities, but we won’t treat you the same as other student clubs, which is violation of the federal law,” Lawrence said.

In a Dec. 15 letter to Prince’s lawyers, school district attorney John Binns Jr. recounted the October episode differently.

Kenigson told Prince and three other students who asked about forming a Bible club that they could do so, according to the letter. She told them they needed to fill out a form to arrange for meeting space, Binns wrote.

Binns wrote that the school “stands ready to assist Tausha in arranging for a Bible club at the school.”