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Court says public schools must allow access to religious groups

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Supreme Court ruled for a Christian youth group June 11 in a church-state battle over whether religious groups must be allowed to meet in public schools after class hours.

In a 6-3 decision that lowered the figurative wall of separation between church and state, the justices said a New York public school district must let the Good News Club hold after-school meetings for grade school children to pray and study the Bible, the Associated Press reported.

Justice Stephen Breyer, usually a moderate-to-liberal vote on the court, joined the five most conservative members — Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas — in partial support of the religious club’s request. Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.

The majority found that excluding the club was unconstitutional discrimination based on the club’s views. Letting the meeting take place would not be an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion, the court ruled.

The Constitution’s First Amendment protects free speech and the free exercise of religion, but it also bars government establishment of religion.

The Milford School District in upstate New York had argued that allowing the Good News Club to hold what school officials called “the equivalent of religious worship” at the school would amount to a school endorsement of Christianity over other religions.

The Milford school has had a policy since 1992 allowing community use of its building after class hours for “social, civic and recreational meetings” and other uses for the community’s welfare. The Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4-H Club are among the groups that have met at the school.

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