Your Guide to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Controversy

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Photo from Pixabay.

Want to know what’s happening with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at BHS? Read our three part series below to get the facts and to find out what students on both sides of the issue are thinking.

FCA FAQ: What’s Happening at BHS?
Your Guide to the Controversy

BY MO OELKERS AND ANDY TALLMAN
You know an issue has become important to the BHS community when you start to overhear conversations about it in the hallways. And lately, the halls of BHS have been abuzz with discussions about one topic: the FCA.
Now a community-wide issue with the potential to be a national story, the conflict between a group of BHS students and the Bozeman High School branch of the FCA is becoming increasingly heated. In this edition of Hawk Tawk, we are bringing you coverage of both sides of the issue. Before you read more about what each side is saying, here are the bare facts:

What is FCA?
FCA stands for the “Fellowship of Christian Athletes.” FCA is a nationwide club with the mission “to lead every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His church.” According to the official website, the FCA’s vision is “to see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.” At the school level, meetings often look like “huddles,” where students meet to discuss the messages of the Bible. In addition to discussing the Bible, they also do the same things that many BHS clubs do: eat pizza, play games, and just hang out.

What is the controversy around FCA that we keep hearing about?
Adults from the FCA who work with people under 18 are known as Ministry Leaders. In order to become a Ministry Leader, one must fill out an application. In that application, the leader must agree to follow the rules and policies outlined by FCA. The policy currently under scrutiny in Bozeman, the FCA sexual purity statement, reads as follows: “God desires His children to lead pure lives of Holiness. The Bible is clear in teaching on sexual sin including sex outside of marriage and homosexual acts. Neither heterosexual sex outside of marriage nor any homosexual act constitutes an alternative lifestyle acceptable to God.” Students are not required to sign this statement to join the FCA—this application is just required for adult Ministry Leaders.
Four BHS students (Margaret and Katharine Callow, Esmie Hurd, and Kate Bick) complained that this policy discriminates against LGBT+ students because it promotes a homophobic mentality within the school environment.

What’s happened so far?
Bob Connors, the district superintendent, and BHS principal Dan Mills reviewed the situation with the guidance of the Montana School Boards Association attorney and determined that recognizing the FCA as an official club was a violation of the Bozeman School District’s Equal Education, Nondiscrimination and Gender Equity Policy as well as the Montana Constitution. Based on this decision, administration gave the club two choices: separate from the national FCA organization, or operate as an unofficial school club. If they choose to remain affiliated with the national organization, the BHS group would still be allowed to have a group that meets regularly at BHS, but they would lose the ability to announce over the intercom and promote their club with the support of the school. They would also have to change the stickers on their posters to indicate they are an unofficial school club whose activities are not endorsed by the school.

What’s the difference between an “unofficial” and an “official” school club?
Bozeman School District policy distinguishes between co-curricular programs and non-curriculum-related clubs. Many clubs count as co-curricular programs, including FCA before this decision. Both designations have access to school space and supervisors, but co-curricular programs can make announcements over the intercom and the stickers on their posters say that they are endorsed by the school. This is different from how most other school districts organize clubs. In addition, Bozeman School District’s policy is unusually inclusive. This makes it hard to apply existing precedent to this case.

What is the legal precedent for this decision?
According to the Montana Constitution, “no religious or partisan test or qualification shall be required of any teacher or student as a condition of admission to any public educational institution,” and that “no sectarian (religious) tenets (ideas) shall be advocated in any public educational institution.”
Bozeman Public Schools’ policy on Equal Education, Nondiscrimination, and Gender Equity states that the District will “make equal educational opportunities available for all students without regard to race, creed, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, color, age, physical or mental disability, national origin, or political beliefs.” However, under the district’s Equal Access policy, it is perfectly legal for students to “organize clubs to discuss or promote religion, subject to the same constitutionally acceptable restrictions the District imposes on other student-organized groups.”

What did the group decide?
Bozeman’s chapter of the FCA has chosen to lose its official club status at Bozeman High, though they asked the school board and administration to reconsider its decision at the Dec. 9 School Board meeting. The club will lose access to the school’s intercom system, and the stickers on the bottom of their promotional posters within the school will no longer identify the material as a “school sponsored activity.” The club can continue to meet at the school, and will be allowed to post flyers as long as they are approved by the administration, like any other flyers posted in the school.

What happens next?
According to the Dec. 17 Bozeman Daily Chronicle, a national religious freedom litigation group called the Alliance Defending Freedom asked the district to reinstate the club’s official status and “raised the possibility of suing for religious discrimination.” In a letter, the organization gave administration until Dec. 18 to officially reinstate the club and wrote that otherwise, “we will have no option but to advise our client of other avenues for vindicating their rights.” Several BHS students who are FCA members were named as clients in the letter. As of our Dec. 17 press date, we don’t know how BHS administration plans to respond.

If I have an opinion on this issue, what can I do to express it?
Many Bozeman High students and community members have written letters to the editor to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle to have their opinions heard. Hawk Tawk is also closely covering this story and is open to letters from the community. If you would like to weigh in, email us at: hawktawkeditor@gmail.com.


emilybackuppicFCABHS Club Grapples With Charges of Discrimination: FCA Leader Asks Bozeman High Group to ‘Love Your Fellow Students’

BY EMILY DANIELS

“There’s people all over the United States, even the world, who know what’s going on here in Bozeman. We’re not going on the attack. We’re just here to love people,” stated Bob Veroulis, State Director of the FCA, at a recent club meeting in Bozeman High School.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a group of about 40-50 individuals at Bozeman High School, has been facing backlash this year due to concerns from the student body about some of the terminology outlined in their club’s website and guidelines.

Mackenzie Hebner, one of Bozeman High’s FCA student leaders, explained how she and the club have been handling the current situation.

“It’s so controversial, so I don’t want to get anything wrong,” Hebner begins with a warm smile.

Hebner spoke about how she perceives what’s happening from an inside view.

“From my knowledge, [what happened] is that people saw our statement of faith on the FCA website and saw some issues in some of the wording that seemed like it could promote a discriminatory belief system that could make people feel unincluded. And so they brought forth that complaint to the school,” says Hebner, adding, “which I think is really cool of them.”

Hebner makes it known that she values people who have strong opinions and stick to them, regardless of if they align with her own views or not.

“I definitely think they have beautifully powerful opinions, and…so do we,” she says. “But right now we’re going through a third party of connection to try and work it out, because we haven’t established back and forth connection yet, which I would love to do, but…it might not happen,” she continues.

The issue at hand is in regards to the club’s statement of faith, which is required of adults who act as Ministry Leaders for local chapters of the FCA, and whether that statement is discrimintaory because it condemns “homosexual acts.”

But most Bozeman High School students who participate in the FCA don’t even know that this statement exists, or that their adult leaders are required to agree to it.

Hebner says that “to be honest I didn’t even know the statement of faith was a thing, […] and it’s not something that we ever go over.”

However, Hebner adds that, “from a faith based standpoint,” she “will stand by it because it is out of the Bible.”

Even so, Hebner says she understood how some students might have interpreted the statement differently.

“I can see how some people can perceive it as wrong, especially if they’re coming from a different side of things,” she says. “But I personally do stand by it because I do know that it doesn’t come from a discriminatory standpoint. According to my belief system, it started out with Adam and Eve, but I also [don’t think there’s anything] wrong with being gay,” she explains.

Hebner believes that in some ways, the Bozeman High FCA group has been misrepresented.

“I wish that one thing that would be talked about more is the diversity within the club and within the idea of Christianity as a whole, because we do come from all different backgrounds and I do believe that there’s no difference between a gay Christian and a straight Christian,” she says.

Hebner says that although there seems to be productive conversation within the groups as well as plenty of media coverage on either side, there has been little to no talk of solutions.

“I think the side contrary to FCA is getting talked about a lot, but only within them, and then the FCA… we’re getting talked about a lot but only within us. So it’s a really good conversation but it’s polarized,” Hebner says. 

Hebner believes that the only way to go about talking about the issue with the other side is to be kind and respectful of their opinion.

“Nothing positive is going to come from this if we respond hatefully and rudely,” she says. “To be able to find a common ground would be the coolest thing ever,” she continues.

Hebner says that dissociating from the national club isn’t necessarily a solution that the club wants to pursue, because in doing this they would be saying that their club is discriminatory.

At the Dec. 9 meeting, the group voted to stay affiliated with the FCA and to become an unofficial school club.

The state director’s speech echoed many of Hebner’s points.

“I’ve heard that for some of you it’s been a rough time,” Veroulis said. “[It has] probably been a rough time on both sides. But God’s calling on you to what? Be bold and courageous. And, to love your neighbour as yourself.”

Veroulis’s speech mentioned many different verses of the Bible that coincided with his main points. One example he mentioned was how the students in the group were, “[…] going to have some battles,” throughout their lives—such as the situation at hand–but that conflicts with others were rarely “against flesh and blood.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Grizzly, or a Bobcat, or a Bruin, or a Hawk, you’ve got to love everybody,” Veroulis said. “Love on your fellow students by serving them and appreciating who they are,” he finished.


MaggieKateKatherineFCA
Maggie Callow, Katie Bick, Katherine Callow.

‘It’s Nice to Just See People Engage In the Issue’ : Students Who Challenged FCA Policy Deal With After-Effects

BY LILY SMITH

They’ve been called “liberal snowflakes” in Facebook comment debates, photoshopped in front of the Nazi flag, and written about in many letters to the editor, both in Bozeman and throughout the nation: Kate Bick, Esmie Hurd, Katherine Callow, and Maggie Callow have been the subject of a lot of conversation in this past month after they brought up the allegedly discriminatory policy of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) at BHS.

The four high school girls noticed that the club’s sexual purity pledge required adult leaders to oppose homosexuality. This was brought to their attention when they read an article about Chick-Fil-A giving money to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations: FCA was one of them.

The girls decided to voice their concerns because “I think we just all want to have a more inclusive and accepting environment where it’s all fair,” says Maggie.

At the end of last school year, they started by going to the club’s advisor, but were redirected to administration. At first, Maggie explains, the girls say they had some trouble getting their ideas across and were told “the club had a right to exist because if she were to shut it down that would be discriminating against them.”

“We weren’t being heard,” she added.

The girls were determined to try again. Over the summer, they emailed the new BHS principal, Dan Mills, to follow up. After meeting with the girls, Mills agreed to look into the issue.

Katherine said that she had initially been frustrated with the administration’s response but understands that “it’s a hard issue and so there may not have been perfect reactions right at the beginning.”

  “We’ve actually ended up feeling pretty supported by the school,” says Maggie.

In an ideal situation, the girls “wish [the BHS club] would dissaffiliate [from FCA],” says Maggie, “because of the statement of faith, which is a little homophobic.”

“A lot homophobic,” interjects Bick.

The girls say they have not experienced any discrimination from the FCA personally, but they reference the letters to the Bozeman Chronicle by students who claim to have felt uncomfortable.

Leo Haigh, a recently-graduated student who played soccer and basketball for BHS, wrote that “people in those sports and others who were in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes tended to display homophobic tendencies, hence the reason I didn’t come out as a lesbian until I finished playing sports.” (Editor’s note: Haigh formerly identified as a lesbian, but has since come out as a man.)

“We think that the students in the club are not meaning to be homophobic. I think part of what’s causing harm is the association is being supported by the school, which is changing, but I think that kind of causes people to feel not included,” says Katherine.

The girls have talked to the principal about meeting with some of the student leaders of FCA and Maggie hopes “that it’ll become less discriminatory, especially if we do end up getting to have a conversation with them.”

The controversy has been reported on in news publications all over Montana, and even nationwide.

“We’ve had some positive and negative feedback,” laughs Maggie, who, along with the other girls, was featured in a recent Bozeman Daily Chronicle article. “It was cool to bring more awareness to the subject,” Maggie concludes.

Overall, Katherine says she feels like the media has represented the girls’ opinions accurately. The girls have also received emails thanking them for their actions from community members who have children in the queer community.

There has also been some backlash. One article, from a religious media organization based in Montana, photoshopped the girls in front of a swastika and called them fascists.

“I’d prefer if that was not published around,” says Bick.

“We mostly didn’t want it to get a lot of attention, which it seems like it hasn’t,” agrees Maggie.

But Maggie says she isn’t disappointed by the commentary, and is glad when people who disagree with her weigh in on the conversation.

“It’s nice to just see people engage in this issue,” she says.

Locally, there have been a few letters to the Chronicle asking the school board to rescind its decision. There are over 400 comments on the Chronicle’s Facebook post of the original article

“I think that the most negative response, for me personally, is people that are not educated about what is happening that are writing based on what they believe this is about and not about what school policy says. They’re just writing because they feel offended as religious people but it’s really not even about religion, it’s about homophobic sentiment,” explains Bick.

The girls say they want to clarify that they were fighting the discrimination, not the religious focus of the club.

“It’s kind of frustrating to have to go against that argument because we’re really not combating the religious part of it,” Maggie clarifies.

The girls say they are happy with the administration’s decision to stop endorsing the club. They do still hope that the club will disaffiliate from FCA due to the organization’s seemingly discriminatory beliefs.

Overall, Katherine says that “Having people come together and talk about values that they share can be a really positive thing, and if people want to do that through religion, we don’t have a problem with that at all.”

 

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