Freedom of Religion – Part 1

Church Law and Tax 1989-07-01 Recent Developments Freedom of Religion Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M.,

Church Law and Tax 1989-07-01 Recent Developments

Freedom of Religion

A federal district court in Pennsylvania ruled that a public high school that allows outside, non-school related groups to use its facilities during noninstructional hours may not deny the same privilege to any group on the basis of the religious content of its speech. The school in question allowed a number of community groups to use its facilities after hours, including scouting organizations, Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Lions, Junior Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, and commercial concerts. However, it refused to allow an evangelical Christian organization to rent the school auditorium for a religious program. The religious group petitioned the court for an order prohibiting the school from refusing to rent the facilities to it. The court agreed, noting that the school had created an “open forum” by allowing community groups to use its facilities, and that the constitutional guaranty of freedom of speech barred the school from discriminating against religious groups because of the content of their speech. It observed that the school “cannot continue to allow the designated groups and organizations to use its facilities, but exclude any applicant … who seek to use the facilities to speak about religion, because that would once again be content-based discrimination against speech in an open forum.” The court did note that if a religious group desired to use the facilities for “some sort of religious ceremony, rite, or ritual, then [the school] would be permitted, under constitutional standards, to deny a facility use application since the forum created by [the school] is an open one only for speech purposes.” Gregoire v. Centennial School District, 701 F. Supp. 103 (E.D. Pa. 1988).

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