Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, through its Institute for Public Affairs, announced that it will call upon the United States Supreme Court to allow religious groups equal access to public school facilities during non-school hours for youth and adult programs whether or not they contain religious study or worship as part of that after-hours use. The Union – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – will state its position to the high court in a “friend of the court” brief, to be filed tomorrow, principally authored on its behalf, and on behalf of the Christian Legal Society, by Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett.
The case, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, arises from a small upstate New York community’s use policy for its single school building that houses all grades, kindergarten through 12th grade. Pursuant to New York State law, Milford has had a policy since 1992 allowing community use of the school for “social, civic and recreational meetings and entertainment events and other uses pertaining to the welfare of the community” when classes are not held. Under the policy, such groups as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4-H Club have used the school building for meetings. In 1996, a community-based Christian youth group, the Good News Club, sought permission to hold its meetings at the school.
School officials refused, stating that the club’s meetings would be “the equivalent of religious worship … rather than the expression of religious views or values on a secular subject.” The Club challenged the decision of the school officials in federal court, asserting that the school’s policy was a violation of their rights to freedom of speech, free exercise of religion and equal protection under the law.
The trial court and Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against the Club. In its brief to the high court, the Union argues that Milford’s policy excluding full access for religious groups to its facilities after-hours is a violation of their Free Speech and Free Exercise of Religion rights. Nathan Diament, director of the Union’s Institute, issued the following statement in connection with the court filing:
The Supreme Court is once again being asked to vindicate the civil rights of American citizens who have been denied equal treatment by our laws due to the simple fact that they are religious Americans who wish to engage in religious activity on the same terms as other citizens. We are confident that the Supreme Court will once again assert that the Constitution guarantees freedom for religion and does not condone discrimination against religion.