Christian clubs gain equal access to public schools

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — More than half a dozen Southern California schools have revamped their policies or issued refunds to allow after-school clubs operated by Child Evangelism Fellowship to operate without charge on the campuses.

The changes were secured by the Liberty Counsel, which has represented the Good News Clubs in a variety of suits across the country since a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling determined that the Christian clubs could not be discriminated against because of their religious focus. In its Good News Club et al v. Milford Central School decision, the high court determined that the Christian clubs were entitled to the same public school access as secular activities such as the Boy Scouts. Failure to do so, they said, was an unconstitutional breach of religious freedom.

Still, Liberty Counsel frequently handles new complaints as the children's clubs face resistance from school officials.

"With each new school year school administrators have to relearn First Amendment principles. Bible clubs and other religious groups are due the same access as secular groups when it comes to space, fees and flier distribution," Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, said in a news release.

The most recent cases, according to Staver, include three schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District, which were blocking CEF clubs from meeting, with some even admitting that it was because CEF was religious.

Staver said his firm pointed out that such exclusions were against the district's own policy, California law, and the U.S. Constitution. District officials responded by adjusting its approval procedure, clearing the way for the three new clubs to begin meeting.

Six years earlier, Liberty Counsel entered into a court-approved settlement requiring the LAUSD to give equal access to the Christian Club free of charge and to pay the attorney's fees and costs for litigating this matter.

In the Inland Empire, two separate school districts were required to refund more than $6,500 in fees after Liberty Counsel argued that charging the religious groups more for services than secular groups amounted to discrimination.

Clubs using campuses in the Murrieta Valley Unified School District have been able to begin meeting weekly instead of monthly after administrators refunded $3,361.02 in overcharges to CEF. The after-school chapter meeting on Temecula Valley Unified School District property was refunded $3,246.09.

Also in Southern California, the Newhall School District granted free access to CEF after initially refusing to waive the fees. After sending a letter explaining the law, Liberty Counsel said the superintendent complied with the fee-waiver request.

And in the Palm Springs Unified School District, administrators declined to distribute CEF fliers despite doing so for years when it announced a change in its policy. Liberty Counsel wrote a letter explaining that the new policy was unconstitutional. After agreeing that the district's new policy needed revision, the district permitted the Good News Club's fliers to be distributed.

Issues have also arisen in other states, including Boise, Idaho where a district superintendent canceled the start of a new Good News Club by citing "separation of church and state" issues. The superintendent of Kamiah Unified School District also refused to allow club sponsors to distribute fliers until receiving a letter from Liberty Counsel. The local club launched a week after the letter was received.

Since its founding in 1937, CEF employs 700 full-time workers in the United States who are assisted by a volunteer pool that tops 40,000. In addition, more than 1,800 missionaries serve overseas. The clubs, for children ages 5 to 12, are designed to teach good character and Christian values to children ages 5-12.

For more information about the ministry, visit www.cefonline.com.

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