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Catholic High School Refuses to Allow Student-Led Conservative Club on Campus

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“Activism to me means militant."

La Reina High School, an all-girls Catholic educational facility located in Thousand Oaks, California, has endured some heat after refusing to allow a student to launch a conservative club on campus.

In a story that has gone widely unreported, a battle has been brewing between the school's administrators and Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), an arm of Young America's Foundation, a prominent organization that helps spread conservative ideals.

The drama commenced at the end of the last school year when Isabelle Foxen, who is now a junior at La Reina, decided that she wanted to launch a YAF chapter at the school. In an exclusive interview with the Blaze, Isabella's mother, Cristine Foxen, explained that there was already a political interest group on the school's campus, but she described it as a "very one-sided" and "liberal" group.

"So my daughter didn’t like that." Cristine explained. "When she heard about YAF, she went to a conference and she came back energized and wanted to start this [club]." But the process was much more complicated than Cristine and Isabella would have ever imagined.

After obtaining the information needed to have a chapter installed on her campus, Isabella submitted her application. She was asked to collect 35 student names before her club would be considered -- a feat that proved extremely easy for the politically-interested young woman. In the end, she exceeded this requirement, inevitably finding 86 students so sign her petition.

But after all of this work, La Reina administrators ended up denying her petition. Why, you ask? Employees at YAF -- and Isabella's family -- believe that a bias against conservative values was driving the school's refusal to allow the YAF chapter on campus.

Isabella's parents, finding themselves at a loss as to why the club was rejected, decided to meet with school officials to discuss the matter. So, Cristine and her husband sat down with the principal, Dr. Shannon Gomez, and two of the school's vice-principals.

During this meeting, the administrators explained that the club was rejected because there wouldn't be a liberal counterpart to help balance its presence on the school's campus. To Isabella's parents, this explanation was a bit bizarre. "When did this become Isabella's responsibility to also try to rally the Democratic side?," Cristine asked (rhetorically, of course) during our interview.

According to her account of the meeting, she and her husband were told that if a liberal group were to be formed, then La Reina would allow a YAF chapter at the school. But since that wasn't happening, Dr. Gomez purportedly said, "At this time we feel that YAF is not appropriate for our school."

In addition to these comments, one of the vice-principals, who also oversees the school's clubs, allegedly made some explanatory comments that Cristine found biased. When asked to clarify why the school had an aversion to YAF, the administrator said that the word "activism" was present on the group's web site. “Activism to me means militant," the vice-principal purportedly said.

As you can see here, the word is mentioned a few times on the YAF web site as it pertains to inspiring young people to get engaged in spreading conservative values.

Cristine also claims that this same vice-principal said, "Well Mrs. Foxen, when I read the proposal that Isabella had wanted to celebrate Reagan’s birthday … I have to tell you that there are still some people who believe that communism is a great thing.” If true, this causes one to wonder: Is this about balance or is it about political opposition?

In a column for Human Events, YAF program officer Ron Meyer writes, "Principal Shannon Gomez said the school’s administration 'did not feel the club fostered a balance[d] political perspective.'” Meyer continues:

Young Americans for Freedom is not political, and has had a historic presence at hundreds of Catholic colleges and high schools across the country. It is a project of Young America’s Foundation, and both were founded by Catholics (William F. Buckley and Ron Robinson). Never before has this excuse been used to a chapter or event on a Catholic campus.

In Meyer's view, La Reina rejected the club not because of tax issues, but because administrators, he believes, have an ideological bias. The school purportedly has a "Green Team" and human rights clubs have been said to have a presence as well. Both of these groups, as Meyer highlights, discuss public policy in the same way that YAF would.

In an interview with the Blaze, Ron Robinson, the president of YAF, echoed these sentiments. "YAF is an organization that has had a strong Catholic tradition," he said. "It’s an organization that understands and feels quite comfortable operating in Catholic schools."

Robinson went on to explain that the "hostility" that is being seen has nothing to do with running a Catholic school. "This is about…intimidating or bullying Catholic students," he explains. He also said that he has no recollection of any other Catholic school refusing YAF for similar reasons.

Unfortunately, the Blaze was not able to verify the current status of these clubs or get a response to the quotes recalled by the mother, as accessing individuals at both the Los Angeles Archdiocese and La Reina has been difficult at best. In a brief conversation with Dr. Gomez, we were told that someone would respond to us. After we placed a number of follow-up calls, the Blaze was forwarded to the archdiocese (they, too, ignored our attempts for comment).

Regardless of these factors, an assembly that was held last year does pose some questions about the school's policies on political influence. The same school administrator who purportedly made the comments about Reagan and communism is said to have also introduced Linda Piera Avila, a Green Party candidate for California State Assembly back in 2010.

Avila spoke about "ecofeminism, women and leadership." The video's description claims that the speech was given at the school's "Student Council Awards Event."

Watch the video of her talk, below:

While Catholic Church was unresponsive to our requests, Tod Tamberg, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, was interviewed by the Ventura County Star at the end of September.

According to Tamberg, any school that falls under its jurisdiction cannot have political student groups present on its campus (this, of course, include La Reina). "We're not saying that politics has no place in the life of young people," he said. We're just saying there is a place for that activity, and it's not on a school campus," said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

The Star reports that Tamberg also cited his belief that federal tax law would prohibit tax-exempt organizations, like the archdiocese and the schools it oversees, from engaging in political activity. Meyer, though, appropriately debunks this theory in his column:

...The archdiocese and Young America’s Foundation share the exact same tax status.

Young Americans for Freedom is a branch of Young America’s Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization—just like the archdiocese. The foundation educates young people about the benefits of free enterprise, limited government, a strong national defense, and traditional values—and these ideas are not partisan.

But, much like the administrator who cited her surprise by the presence of the word "activism" on YAF's web site, Tamberg also cited his concern over "inflammatory" language on the same web site. The Star writes:

A page about starting a new chapter asks students if they are "tired of liberal and Marxist professors indoctrinating" classmates, and says groups including "fringe environmentalists, race-baiters, Islamo-fascists and run-of-the-mill leftists are distraught that you would even think about challenging them."

Meyer, taking all of this information in stride, writes, "The archdiocese said public policy-related clubs are not allowed. Gomez said these clubs are acceptable if there’s balance. Which one is it?"

The Foxens are wondering that, too. Either way, La Reina has not wavered in its decision to prevent the club on campus.

 

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