Sports Facilities

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Renting School Sports Facilities Brings Discrimination into Play

8 Jun, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic

As schools looks for more ways to raise money to make spare budgets spread a little further, many are open to renting out their athletic facilities to organizations that lack their own fields, gyms and stadiums. It’s a common practice nationwide, and it helps public schools’ bottom lines. The practice has been garnering more attention as of late, particularly when it comes to religious schools using public (taxpayer-paid) facilities.

In West Des Moines, Iowa schools, a controversy is raging over access to public school facilities by an area religious school, Dowling Catholic High School. The furor stems from Dowling’s recent decision not to hire a popular openly gay substitute teacher for full-time work. Students in the public school district, particularly at Valley High School, have asked West Des Moines school board members to reconsider how they rent facilities to organizations with discriminatory hiring practices, according to the Des Moines Register.

Dowling Catholic High School has been using some of the West Des Moines’ school systems for years, and considers the Valley High School football stadium its home field. Public school students opposed to the religious school’s use of the field have signed a petition and requested that the public school district revise its policy to require renters to sign an agreement that they will abide by the district's nondiscrimination policy in their organization. Some of the students voiced their opinions on the matter, noting that LGBTQ students attending any of the games sponsored by a religious or other organization might not feel welcome or even secure. 

“Students who use these facilities may not feel safe if they are there as part of these community events with these organizations that may nor may not have a discrimination policy,” commented one student.

In addition, the substitute teacher, 26-year-old Tyler McCubbin, has seen a flurry of support on social media on his behalf. In May, about 150 students and alumni of Dowling Catholic High School staged a walkout to protest the school’s decision not to hire him because of his sexual orientation.

The issue is not an isolated problem. The Boys Scouts of America, after taking a hard line against gay scouts and scout masters, saw some of their access to public buildings as well as charitable donations disappear under public non-discrimination policies. In the U.S. today, 22 states and more than 185 cities and counties have laws on the books that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and many more are under consideration, though some more politically conservative states are attempting to push back by exempting religious groups from non-discrimination policies.

If the West Des Moines School District ultimately chooses to pull the Catholic school’s access to the fields – or if it doesn’t and concerned citizens choose to file a lawsuit – there is precedent for the move. A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, found that a public university did not violate the First Amendment by withdrawing recognition from a Christian student group that excluded gay students.

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