OU Welcomes High Court Review Of Rules On Religious After-School Clubs

Posted on October 10, 2000 In Press Releases

Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, through its Institute for Public Affairs, welcomed a decision today by the United States Supreme Court to review a ruling against a Christian youth group’s request to use public school facilities after school hours.

In the small upstate New York community of Milford, a single school building that houses all grades, kindergarten through 12th grade. The Milford Central School 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 1994, the St. Louis based Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, ruled in a similar case in favor of the religious after-school club, while the Second Circuit has rejected similar claims by religious groups seeking to use public school facilities after hours several times in the past few years. The Orthodox Union, along with other religious groups, has sought Supreme Court review of these cases on each occasion.

Nathan Diament, director of the Union’s Institute, issued the following statement in connection with the Court’s grant of review:

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court to review the Good News Club case and the entire issue of the all-too-common policy barring religious groups from using public school facilities after hours. The Constitution requires separation of religion and state, but it does not require the kind of discrimination against religion that these policies embody. We are confident the Court will rule for religious liberty and in favor of the rights of religious groups to have equal access to public school facilities.