Fellowship of Christian Athletes v. District of Columbia

Becket Role:
Case Start Date:
May 7, 2024
Deciding Court:
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Original Court:
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Practice Area(s):

Case Snapshot

Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) clubs—called huddles—have helped students across the world to live out their faith on and off the field for decades. Every huddle welcomes all students, treating them with respect and kindness as people made in the image of God. However, in 2022, the Washington, D.C., public school system kicked FCA off a high-school campus because FCA asks its student leaders to share its religious beliefs. FCA is now asking a federal court to restore its freedom to equally gather on public school campuses in accordance with its faith.


On May 7, 2024, Becket filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to restore FCA’s equal access to public-school campuses in the nation’s capital.

Case Summary

Bringing together faith, service, and sports 

Founded in 1954, FCA is a religious ministry that supports student-athletes committed to living out their Christian faith on and off the playing field. FCA helps form “huddles” on college, high school, and middle school campuses, where student-athletes come together for prayer, testimonies, and Bible study. In addition to its huddle ministry, FCA operates athletic camps and other community service events for tens of thousands of students annually. FCA clubs are open to students of all faiths or none, and there is no membership requirement for those who participate. 

FCA has long served schools in Washington, D.C. Each year, FCA’s DC chapter offers $30,000 in scholarships for local student-athletes to attend FCA-run summer sports camps. FCA also partners with the D.C. Dream Center, a community center in Southeast D.C., to host “all abilities” sports camps for student-athletes with disabilities. Beyond helping students gather for fellowship and service, FCA DC’s huddles help local schools address high rates of student absences—a well-known problem in the District. FCA meetings, which are on-campus and during the school day, build high-quality friendships among students and encourage them to attend class.  

FCA sidelined for its faith 

In 2022, an FCA huddle returned to campus at Jackson-Reed High School in D.C. after a brief pause during the pandemic. Two weeks later, however, a part-time freshman baseball coach told local FCA staff that, because of FCA’s beliefs, there was “no place for a group like FCA in a public school.” He filed a complaint with D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) accusing Jackson-Reed of violating the District of Columbia Human Rights Act by allowing FCA on campus.  

Because of the coach’s complaint, DCPS immediately stripped the Jackson-Reed FCA huddle of official recognition, stopped it from meeting, removed it from the list of student clubs, deleted its club website, and launched a formal investigation into FCA. During the investigation, FCA representatives explained to DCPS that any student is welcome to participate in FCA huddles; all FCA asks is that its student leaders—those who lead prayer, Bible study, and religious teaching—agree with its religious beliefs. Despite these facts, DCPS kicked FCA off campus at Jackson-Reed, and offered to let Jackson-Reed back on campus only if it assured that anyone could lead FCA, “regardless of … religious affiliation, or personal belief.”  As a result, current Jackson-Reed students who wish to meet as a recognized FCA huddle on campus, can’t. 

FCA seeks equal access to public school campuses 

After losing official recognition, FCA unsuccessfully appealed the decision, pointing out that DCPS could not exclude FCA from campus because it asks its leaders to agree to its beliefs. In fact, Jackson-Reed already recognizes many student groups formed around particular beliefs and characteristics—including the Asian Student Union, which is “for students of Asian heritage,” and the Wise Club, which offers a “separate space for young women.” DCPS itself even runs entire schools that condition admission on race and sex. So for DCPS to start selectively targeting FCA over its religious leadership requirements clearly violates the law. 

With the help of Becket, FCA filed a federal lawsuit against DCPS on May 7, 2024. The complaint points to a similar Becket case involving FCA, Fellowship of Christian Athletes v. San Jose Unified School District, in which an FCA club won its right to return to campus after being harassed and kicked out of public schools in San Jose, CA, for its leadership requirements. The “en banc” Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals––a special panel of 11 judges—ruled in 2023 that San Jose unlawfully penalized FCA for its religious beliefs and used a double standard that failed to treat FCA like all other student groups. FCA is now asking for the same equal access to public school campuses in the nation’s capital. 

Importance to religious liberty: 

  • Education: There is a nation-wide trend of curbing free speech—especially religious speech—on public-school campuses. But students do not forfeit their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of religious exercise, and freedom of association when studying at a public school. 
  • Religious Communities—Religious groups must be able to select the members of their ministries according to their religious mission and sincere faith, free from government interference.