While maintaining its prohibition on school-promoted religion, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that private religious groups can sponsor a student evangelism club on campus after school hours if other private groups are allowed to use the facilities at that time.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national watchdog group that filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court, said the justices' ruling in Good News Club v. Milford Central School is disappointing.
"This decision is a terrible mistake," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The court's ruling means aggressive fundamentalist evangelists have a new way to proselytize school kids. I can't imagine most parents will be happy about that.
"The only good news here is that safeguards remain in place to prohibit evangelism during the school day," Lynn added.
The controversy began in 1996 when the Rev. Stephen Fournier sought permission for his Good News Club to hold meetings at Milford Central School immediately after school hours. The adult-run club planned to use the facility for religious lessons and worship.
Good News Clubs are sponsored by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, a national group that seeks to convert young children to fundamentalist Christianity. At the weekly meetings, children are divided into groups of "saved" and "unsaved," and "unsaved" children, who may be as young as 5 or 6, are pressured to make faith professions.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.