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Supreme Court to decide on policy banning Christian club after school

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a lower-court decision preventing a Christian club for children from meeting after hours at a New York public school.

The justices accepted the case, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, upon appeal from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld a policy by the school district banning the use of its facilities for religious purposes. The Eighth Circuit, however, ruled for a Good News Club in Missouri, saying the school violated the organization’s free-speech rights, according to Conservative News Service.

The case bears similarities to one decided in 1993 by the high court in favor of an evangelical church in New York. In a unanimous opinion in Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches School District, the justices ruled public schools may not refuse churches use of their buildings after hours when use by other groups is permitted. The church had sought to rent school space to show at night a Focus on the Family film series.

In the Good News case in New York, the Milford Central School District has allowed the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4-H Club to use its facilities after hours.

The Good News case, however, includes an aspect the high court has not dealt with in previous church-state cases involving use of public-school facilities by religious groups. The Good News Club is for elementary-age children. The club meets immediately after the close of the school day.

The case is an opportunity for the Supreme Court “to clarify and reaffirm its earlier view that religious discrimination in a public forum will not be tolerated,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, in a written release. Sekulow argued on behalf of Lamb’s Chapel before the high court. “We are hopeful that the First Amendment rights of religious organizations remain intact.”

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the most outspoken of the strict-separationist groups, defended the school policy.

“Public schools have every right to limit the use of their facilities to protect children from outside groups,” said AU Executive Director Barry Lynn in a written statement. “We believe the group does not have a constitutional right to evangelize on elementary-school grounds right after classes end, and we hope the Supreme Court agrees.”

The Milford Central School District’s community-use policy says its facilities may be used for “social, civic and recreational meetings and entertainment events and other uses pertaining to the welfare of the community.” It also says, however, “School premises shall not be used by any individual or organization for religious purposes.”

Good News Clubs, which are affiliated with Child Evangelism Fellowship, are open to children ages 6 to 12. The clubs teach moral lessons from the Bible, encourage Scripture memorization and seeks to lead children into a saving relationship with Jesus.

The club in Milford is led by Stephen and Darleen Fournier. He is pastor of Milford Center Community Church.

The high court announced Oct. 10 it would review the lower-court ruling. A date for oral arguments has not been announced.