Church and state in Fountain Lake | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Church and state in Fountain Lake

Posted By on Wed, Jan 7, 2009 at 12:47 PM

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has raised an objection to the construction of what it described as a Fellowship of Christian Athletes addition to the athletic facilities at Fountain Lake High School.

Americans United says the FCA is entitled to equal access to school facilities along with all other organizations, but wants the facility to not be explicitly identified as an FCA facility and to not display religious symbols, such as the crucifix now in place. Private money reportedly paid for the construction on public property but it's operated by the public school district.

The FCA plaque on the building, says a letter from attorneys to Fountain Lake officials, "communicates the unconstitutional message that the school endorses the explicitly Christian beliefs reflected in the plaque's content."

Well of course it does. And no Muslims better ask for an FMA room and plaque at Fountain Lake, even if they could produce the money to build it.

Americans United asks school officials for a satisfactory response in 30 days. Presumably, failure to correct the situation will provoke a lawsuit. A winning lawsuit.

I called Superintendent Darin Beckwith, whose office referred calls to an attorney. Paul Blume, the district's lawyer, said later that the district disputes items in the letter, particularly that the facility is an "FCA room." It was built with private contributions for school purposes, mostly viewing football film. He also said the district disputes that any school official had made a statement claiming the building was for FCA use. He said the FCA clearly could use the room, as can other legitimate groups such as the Beta Club, and  may be allowed to announce its meetings there, as other clubs do. Blume said he believed it might be a closer call on whether the content of the FCA's sign passed constitutional muster, but he believed it did. For now, he said he didn't know if the district planned any changes in response to the complaint.

AMERICANS UNITED NEWS RELEASE

A public school in Arkansas violated the U.S. Constitution by arranging construction of a special meeting room for a Christian student group, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

School officials at Fountain Lake High School in Hot Springs, Ark., refer to the room, built for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, as the “FCA room.” The space was constructed as an addition to the school’s football complex; it contains a plaque that displays a cross and the words “Fellowship of Christian Athletes Meets Here!”

According to an article in the Hot Springs Village Voice, the addition was paid for with private funds, but school officials came up with the idea and were candid about the room’s religious purpose.

Assistant Coach Andi Kinsinger told the newspaper, “Fellowship of Christian Athletes has impacted many people for over 50 years through the influence of athletes and coaches, and we want to share those experiences with the students at Fountain Lake.

“This new building will make a statement and hopefully change the lives of many for His Glory,” Kinsinger continued. “FCA camp is where I came to know Christ; it provides a lot of opportunity for all.”

In a letter sent today to the school’s superintendent and principal, Americans United demanded that the school remove the FCA plaque, ensure that the room is shared equally by all student groups and refrain from referring to the room as the “FCA room.”

“This is a public school, not a Sunday school,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Public schools must welcome children of all faiths and none.

“The school’s actions are patently unconstitutional,” he continued. “It is wrong for school officials to meddle in religious matters.”

Americans United’s letter was drafted by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser and Staff Attorney Ian Smith.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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