VICTORY: School District Changes Policy, Provides Equal Treatment to Religious Organizations
The United States Supreme Court made clear over a decade ago that school districts that choose to open their facilities for use by community groups cannot exclude groups from that benefit, or otherwise treat them less favorably, simply because of their religious viewpoint. Despite the clarity of the applicable law, we were forced to file a federal lawsuit that we told you about last November to secure the right of Child Evangelism Fellowship of West Orange County (“Child Evangelism Fellowship” or “CEF”), a California-based organization, to use local school district facilities on the same terms as similar non-religious groups.
CEF sought to hold a Good News Club at a school within the Buena Park School District. Good News Clubs are after-school meetings for youth that include educational lessons from the Bible, the singing of songs, memorization of Bible verses, stories about missionaries, and games or other recreational activities focused on the lesson’s themes and morals. When CEF submitted its facilities use request to the District, administrators informed the organization that it would have to pay for access to the school facilities. Although CEF explained to administrators that the district policy allowing nonprofit, youth-oriented groups (including Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Camp Fire, Inc.) to use school facilities free of charge applied equally to religious organizations such as CEF, the district refused to alter its position, and CEF was left with no choice but to seek relief in court.
We are pleased to report a victory in that lawsuit. The Buena Park School District has agreed to change district policy to clarify that religious nonprofit organizations that promote youth and school activities, like Child Evangelism Fellowship, will be permitted to use district facilities on the same terms as other nonprofit organizations—including authorization to use district facilities without charge.
With the favorable resolution of the litigation, not only has CEF won the ability to use Buena Park School District facilities free of charge, but the students of the district have also won the opportunity, like so many youth throughout the country, to take advantage of all that CEF and its Good News Club have to offer.
While we are satisfied with the positive outcome of this matter, we know that similar situations arise more often than they should, especially in light of the well-settled law prohibiting this type of religious discrimination. As long as circumstances such as those encountered by CEF continue to occur, the ACLJ will continue to work on behalf of individuals and organizations to ensure they receive equal treatment under the law.
This article was written by ACLJ Attorney's Carly Gammill and Michelle Terry.