Have your children brought home a flier/permission slip to join "The Good News Club" at their school? Before you sign, consider doing just 15 minutes of internet research.
This after-school club for children ages 4 to 14 years is sponsored by the Child Evangelism Foundation (CEF) of West Texas - a branch of the larger national CEF. According to the website, their purpose is to reach young children with the gospel of the “born-again believers” and to “evangelize children with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to establish them in the Word of God and connect them to a local church or Christian living. Our concern in seeking to evangelize them is that “not one of these little ones should perish.”
They (CEF) know how tempting it is for parents to take advantage of an after-school activity that is offered at no cost and in a safe environment. Most of us would do it. And most would be shocked to learn what really is being taught to our children.
If you receive or received this flyer, decide if this is right for your children. We already know of two schools in El Paso that offer this program, and like the stars in the sky, there are certainly many more being offered in elementary schools in El Paso and the surrounding counties.
Other Christian institutions disagree with the curriculum and the tactics of the CEF. The CEF wants creationism taught in public school and are opposed to the "homosexual agenda". Their instruction encourages children to bully those students who are brought up in other faiths, and use peer pressure to convert the more stubborn children.
The flier that you may have received, indicates that children of all religious backgrounds are welcome. At the same time, it says that the children will be doing bible study taught by “specially trained Christians” a euphemism for born-again believers whose goal is to convert children.
Clubs like the “Good News Club” are essentially turning our schools into Christian fundamentalist churches.
Public schools are obligated to remain neutral toward religion and to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students. Parents -- not the school district or an evangelical Christian club -- are responsible for determining the religious or nonreligious upbringing of their children.
What they are doing is legal. In 2001, the Supreme Court held that a school district cannot deny religious groups access to its facilities for use after school hours, i.e., during evenings and on the weekends, if the school district allows other community groups to use them.
Five things that you can do:
* Contact your school with this information.
* Talk to other parents and make them aware of the true nature of this program.
* Attend one of the meetings if you know that one is being held at your child’s school
* Let us know if your child brings home a flyer from their school
* Share this post
The Supreme Court has found that it is constitutional for a school district to allow religious groups to use school property for meetings during non-instructional hours if the school district’s policy allows other community groups to use its facilities. Both decisions involved rental of public schools by religious groups. Once a school district has adopted such a policy, it generally creates a “limited public forum.” This means that the government may still regulate speech occurring on its property; however, the government’s restrictions on speech in these types of forums must be made on a viewpoint neutral basis. It should also be noted, that school districts may restrict all outside groups from using school facilities.
Certainly, the school district can restrict the use of its property to only school-sponsored events and/or activities.
The use of public schools for religious purposes is so divisive and creates such an appearance of entanglement that it continues to be litigated. For example, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that a school board’s refusal to allow school property for “religious worship” was permissible.
Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Educ. of City of New York, 650 F.3d 30 (2nd Cir. 2011). Wrote the appeals court: The performance of worship services is a core event in organized religion. . . . Religious worship services are conducted according to the rules dictated by the particular religious establishment and are generally performed by an officiant of the church or religion. When worship services are performed in a place, the nature of the site changes. The site is no longer simply a room in a school being used temporarily for some activity. The church has made the school the place for the performance of its rites, and might well appear to have established itself there. The place has, at least for a time, become the church." Id. At 41.
The Court also ruled:
“The Board could also reasonably worry that the regular, long-term conversion of schools into state-subsidized churches on Sundays would violate the Establishment Clause by reason of public perception of endorsement. . . . The possibility of perceived endorsement is made particularly acute by the fact that [public] schools used by churches are attended by young and impressionable students, who might easily mistake the consequences of a neutral policy for endorsement." Id. At 42. (By the time of the decision, the church had been meeting in the school without paying rent for nearly nine years)
The Supreme Court let the decision stand, denying certiorari without an opinion. Bronx Household of Faith v. New York City Bd. of Educ., No. 11-386, 2011 WL 4479210 (U.S., 2011).
Although the court did not rule that it was unconstitutional for a religious group to rent a public school, the court did decide that public schools could constitutionally prohibit “worship services” on school grounds. This case allows schools to refuse to rent to churches for the purpose of holding church services at the school.
The two Supreme Court decisions and how they relate to Bronx Household—Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District and Good News Club v. Milford—are discussed in further detail below.
Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, 508 U.S. 384 (1993)
In this case, a New York school district adopted a policy, which allowed outside community groups to use its premises for “social, civic, or recreational” purposes, but expressly prohibited use for “religious” purposes. Pursuant to this policy, the school district had twice denied an application by Lamb’s Chapel, an evangelical church, to use the district’s facilities in the evening, after school hours, to show a film series concerning family and child-rearing issues from a Christian perspective.
The Supreme Court held unanimously that a school district cannot deny religious groups access to its facilities for use after school hours, i.e., during evenings and on the weekends, if the school district allows other community groups to use them. Even when the school district opens its doors to outside community groups, the Court recognized the school district can still control access to its property. It stated that a school district can still “legally preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is dedicated.” Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist., 508 U.S. 384, 390 (1993). The Court further noted that the school district “need not have permitted after-hours use of its property” at all. Id. at 391.
However, because the school did open its property to various community groups, the Court held that the school district could not then “discriminate” based on the content of the speech, even in the interests of upholding the separation between church and state. Specifically, the Court stated, “control over access to a nonpublic forum can be based on subject matter and speaker identity so long as distinctions drawn are reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum and are viewpoint neutral.” Id. at 392-3.
The Court also addressed the Establishment Clause issue. The Court ultimately rejected the notion that permitting the church to use the school after hours would violate the Establishment Clause. It stated specifically that because the film showing “would not have been during school hours, would not have been sponsored by the school, and would have been open to the public, and not just church members” the Establishment Clause was not violated. Id. at 395. When these circumstances exist, there is no “realistic danger that the community would think that the district was endorsing religion.”Id. at 395.
Good News Cub v. Milford Central School, 533 U.S. 98 (2001)
This case again involved a New York school district policy that allowed public schools to rent out school premises for public use. Specifically, the policy allowed residents to use a school for “instruction in any branch of education, learning or the arts” or “social, civic, and recreational meetings.” The Good News Club, a subdivision of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, requested to use a school for its weekly after-school meetings, seeking to rent classrooms directly after the bell rang at the end of the school day. The purpose of these after-school clubs is described on the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s website as follows: “As with all CEF ministries, the purpose of after-school Good News Clubs is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.” Its mission statement: "Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) is a Bible-centered, worldwide organization that is dedicated to seeing every child reached with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, discipled [sic] and established in a local church." It claims that annually "ten million children worldwide heard the good news with over one million making professions of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," including through courses designed to meet in public schools.
The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, held that the school district’s action violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
Noting that the parties agreed the school district created a limited public forum, the Court stated that any restriction on speech had to be viewpoint neutral. In the Court’s language, “When the State establishes a limited public forum, the State is not required to and does not allow persons to engage in every type of speech.” Good News Club v. Milford Central Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 106 (2001). However, “the restriction must not discriminate against speech on the basis of viewpoint, and the restriction must be ‘reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum.’” Id. at 106-7. The Court held that in refusing to allow Good News Club to meet directly after class, the school district engaged in viewpoint discrimination. The Court claimed that the facts of this case were virtually indistinguishable from Lamb’s Chapel.
The Court stated, “Like the church inLamb’s Chapel, the Club seeks to address a subject otherwise permitted under the rule, the teaching of morals and character from a religious standpoint.” Id. at 109. It stated, “The only apparent difference between the activity of Lamb’s Chapel and the activities of the Good News Club is that the Club chooses to teach moral lessons from a Christian perspective through live storytelling and prayer, whereas Lamb’s Chapel taught lessons through films.” Id. at 109-10. The Court’s majority even suggested that the Good News Club teaches morals and character development to children because the “Club instructs children to overcome feelings of jealousy, to treat others well regardless of how they treat the children, and to be obedient, even if it does so in a nonsecular way.” Id. at 108.
Additionally, the majority, in a footnote, concluded that the activities did not amount to religious worship. Id. at 112, n.4.
The Supreme Court held that allowing the Good News Club to meet on school property did not violate the Establishment Clause. It reiterated that because the meetings were held after school hours, were not sponsored by the school and were open to any student with parental consent, and not just Club members, that the Establishment Clause was not violated. Id. at 113.