Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, through its Institute for Public Affairs – applauded this morning’s 6-3 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a Christian youth organization that had sought to hold its after-school meetings in a New York public school, but had been denied that access by school officials. The Court found that the youth club’s Free Speech rights had been violated and that the Constitution’s Establishment Clause did not require the school district to deny access to the religious group.
Under a New York State law, a school district enacted a policy allowing social and civic organizations to use its public school facilities after hours for meetings, but barred religious groups from using the same facilities. The district refused to allow the Good News Club, a Christian high school group, to meet on premises after school; the Club’s meetings include Bible study, brief prayers and a discussion of moral issues. The Club sued the school district asserting that their free speech rights were being violated because they were being denied the use of facilities after-hours solely on the basis of the religious viewpoint of their speech. The Orthodox Union joined a friend of the court brief in support of the Good News Club arguing that Milford’s policy and the New York law mandates unequal and, therefore, unconstitutional discriminatory treatment of religion.
Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Union, issued the following statement:
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again declared that the Constitution does not condone discrimination against religion. The Milford school district and its supporters claimed that the Establishment Clause requires that religious Americans be treated unequally; the Supreme Court has rejected that assertion and clearly stated that the Constitution demands neutrality toward religion, not hostility. The Court stated that “’the guarantee of neutrality’ is respected, not offended, when the government, following neutral criteria and evenhanded policies, extends benefits to recipients whose ideologies, and viewpoints, including religious ones, are broad and diverse.’” The Court also rejected arguments suggesting that allowing a religious group equal access to public facilities would be viewed as state endorsement of religion. This ruling has important implications for the President’s faith-based initiative as well – for that effort too, is aimed at ensuring government neutrality toward religion. This is another great day for America’s “first freedom.”