AU Challenges Special Room For Religious Group At Ark. Public School

Attorneys with Americans United have warned officials at an Arkansas public school that they have violated the Constitution by arranging construction of a special meeting room for an evangelical Christian student group.

School officials at Fountain Lake High School in Hot Springs 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 and 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.

Andi Kinsinger, an assistant coach of girls basketball and volleyball, 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. FCA camp is where I came to know Christ; it provides a lot of opportunity for all.”

Student Courtney Hollansworth said the new room will make it easier for FCA to undertake its evangelistic activities.

“Our goal in FCA is to reach out to all of the students in our school with compassion and the amazing truth of Jesus Christ,” she said. “I am so grate­ful to all the people and companies that contributed time and resources to make this program successful.”

The wing includes a multi-purpose classroom, coach’s office and locker room. Community businesses and in­di­viduals donated money and equip­ment to construct it.

In a Jan. 7 letter sent 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.”

The letter points out that groups like FCA have the right to meet in public schools but notes that the display of the religious symbol and allowing exclusive use by FCA is legally problematic.

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

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

Paul Blume, an attorney for the school district, claimed that other groups already have the right to use the facility.

“Other school organizations can meet there if they want to,” he said. “There is equal access to it. That’s not a problem.”

Regarding the cross on the sign, Blume said, “That’s really the only thing that I’m going to have a close look at, is the sign. And by saying that, I’m not conceding that it needs to be taken down.”