Supreme Court considers public school use.
Others will take the position that the Supreme Court has taken too separationist a view of the place
of religion in the public schools.
The decision in Milford will probably divide Americans like the more than 40 other decisions of the
Supreme Court on religion. The scarcity of such courses is attributable both to the nervousness of
school superintendents and the lack of teachers qualified to give objective courses.
It is likely in the Good News case that there are five votes to reverse the lower court and allow
religious groups to use the premises of public schools after hours. Americans United for the
Separation of Church and State supported that unanimous ruling but say that the ruling does not
apply to the current case because the Good News Club wants to use the public school immediately
after classes and seeks to proselytize very young grade-school children.
A similar Good News Club did win a decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 split
that allowed the religious group to use the schools in the city of Ladue, Mo. In his opinion he denied
that the group simply advocates the development of character as the Boy Scouts do. If the Supreme
Court allows a religious organization to use public schools for instruction in religion and devotional
exercises, the consequences will be significant. All rights reserved.
. Such a decision will reverse the thrust of the 1948 McCollum decision, which made it clear that
students in public schools are not to be divided along the lines of their religious affiliation or the lack
of any connection with religion. Some will argue with Thomas Jefferson that the separation of
religion and government should be firm. The decision said that federal and New York law give no
right to religious groups to use a public school building to conduct their services. A careful and
deliberate decision was made by Congress to limit the privileges made available by the act to high
schools. Milford Central School is being sought by the Rutherford Institute and by religious
broadcaster Pat Robertson. More practically, the attendance of a large number of students at
sectarian classes after the school day ends can disrupt the schedule of buses and sports.
If the Supreme Court denies the request of the Good News Club to use the facilities of public school
premises, Congress might consider legislation to extend the Equal Access Act to students younger
than those in high school. Darleen Fournier, the wife of the pastor of the Milford Center Community
Bible Church, asked permission to use the premises of the one school building after classes.
Supreme Court that the right to free speech and assembly favor the Good News Club.
The dissenting judge referred to a Supreme Court decision in 1990 that ruled unanimously that
religious groups have the right to use public schools after hours if other community groups have
been granted access. The act is restricted to students only; under the statute a minister of religion
may join the group only occasionally.
A reversal of the lower courts in Good News Club vs.
Decision may be divisive for elementary students if it reverses 1948 ruling on religious instruction
On Feb. The Supreme Court sustained the Equal Access Act.
The case advanced by the Good News Club has been used for years by several groups that claim the
public school has become too secular and even antireligious because there is no place for instruction
The claim has a superficial appeal but it is not based in facts. The hour-long meetings for children in
the first to the fifth grades of school were described by the judge as clearly religious, sometimes
leading to the children declaring themselves "saved." McAvoy also denied the claim that the free
speech privileges of the church were curbed.
The appeals court sustained the ruling of the lower court, with one dissent. The court warned then
that religion cannot constitutionally be advanced by the government and that separating students on
the basis of their faith or lack of it can be divisive.
If religious groups, contrary to the spirit and even the letter of the McCollum decision, are allowed
to use classrooms after the school day ends, certain problematic situations will arise. In the South
and Southwest, Baptists and other denominations can put subtle pressure on parents and students
to sign up. The sponsoring groups will be able to use loudspeaker systems to remind children of very
young ages to attend the activities. The American Civil Liberties Union and its allies will be arguing
that the federal courts in New York got it right.
Devout believers will be on both sides of the case. The school board denied the request of the Good
A lawsuit brought by Fournier on behalf of her 7-year-old daughter, Andrea, was rejected by federal
Judge Thomas McAvoy. But even if Congress follows such a course, the result would not fit the
practices of the Good News Club. Courses that teach religion objectively are not prohibited and
indeed are encouraged. This can divide a school along religious lines. Robert Drinan is a professor at
Georgetown University Law Center. 28, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a
case from upstate New York involving the question of whether a Christian Evangelical church has a
constitutional right to use a room in a public school for religious instruction and prayer after the
regular school program has concluded for the day.
A federal court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York have sustained the denial of
the right by school officials to the Good News Club.
The Good News Club in Milford, N.Y., is a unit of the National Christian Youth Organization, which
seeks to bring the gospel to children between the ages of 6 and 12. The minority view reasoned from
certain decisions of the U.S. Even moments of silent prayer were disapproved.
In 1983 Congress passed the Equal Access Act, which allows high school students to meet to read
the Bible during hours designated for extracurricular activities. The decision will deserve the close
attention of everyone concerned with the orientation of America's public schools.
Jesuit Fr. The ruling was validated 6-3 in 1952 in the Zorach decision.
The Bible and prayers in public schools were outlawed by the Supreme Court in the early 1960s. She
argued that since the Scouts, the Girl Scouts and 4-H Club were able to use classrooms in Milford,
her Bible class should have the same privilege. When the Supreme Court forbade the Bible in 1961,
the court made it clear, in the opinion of Justice Thomas Clark, that public schools have a right and
indeed an educational duty to teach about religion. In that year the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in the
McCollum decision that release time religious instruction could not be held on the premises of public
schools. The court in this case said that the city had created an open forum and that consequently
viewpoint discrimination is not permitted.
Religious instruction in the public school has occupied the Supreme Court since 1948. There were
some 3 million children receiving such instruction in public schools at that time. His e-mail address
COPYRIGHT 2001 National Catholic Reporter
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning
Others will take the position that the Supreme Court has taken too separationist a view of the place...