Religious Student Group Wins Discrimination Suit

Court rules school district discriminated between groups with similar goals.

Church Law and Tax 1995-11-01 Recent Developments

Freedom of Religion

Key point: A public school cannot prohibit a religious group concerned about the moral development of youth from using school facilities after school hours when secular organizations having the same concerns are granted access.

A federal appeals court ruled that a public school could not prevent a religious student group from meeting on school premises after hours when the Boy Scouts were permitted to meet. The court concluded that by allowing the Boy Scouts to meet, the school had created a “limited open forum,” and that it could not lawfully prevent other groups from using the facilities that shared a similar purpose. The court noted that the Boy Scouts’ own publications described its purposes to include the moral development of youth. This was the same purpose of the religious group, except that it addressed the moral development of youth from a religious perspective. The court noted that the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that the denial of access to a religious group to show films on public school property regarding child-rearing and family values from a religious perspective constituted impermissible “viewpoint discrimination” when the school’s property was open to other groups addressing similar issues from a non-religious perspective. Lamb’s Chapel v, Center Moriches Union Free School District, 113 S. Ct. 2141 (1993). As a result, the court concluded that the school’s attempt to ban the religious group from addressing the moral development of youth from a religious perspective amounted to “viewpoint discrimination” in violation of the first amendment guaranty of free speech. Good News/Good Sports Club v. School District, 28 F.3d 1501 (8th Cir. 1994).

See Also: Use of Public Property for Religious Purposes

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