Public Schools May Restrict Evangelism Aimed At Young Students, Americans United Tells Supreme Court

New York School Was Right To Limit Religious Club's Access, Says AU

Public schools should have the right to deny access to religious groups seeking to proselytize young children, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has advised the Supreme Court.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the justices today, Americans United and a group of allied organizations outline their argument in the case The Good News Club v. Milford Central School. The legal controversy centers around a New York public school district that has refused to rent its building to a religious group that wants to hold evangelistic classes for young children right after the school day ends.

The Rev. Stephen Fournier, a local pastor in Milford, N.Y., wants to use the school for weekly meetings of his Good News Club that start just six minutes after the school day ends. Good News Clubs, which are sponsored by the national Child Evangelism Fellowship, are aimed at converting children as young as 5 and 6 to fundamentalist Christianity.

"Allowing aggressive religious groups to evangelize in America's public schools is not 'good news,'" said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Public schools must serve children of many different religious backgrounds. If religious groups win special access to seek converts, it can only spark interfaith tensions."

In the brief, Americans United argues that young children are unable to distinguish between events that are school sponsored and those that are not. The brief also asserts that it will be necessary for school officials to escort students to meetings of the Good News Club, creating too much of a connection between the school and a private religious group.

"No child between the ages of six to twelve, under the circumstances of this case, can reasonably be expected to appreciate that, despite all of the similarities between Good News Club classes and his or her other classes, the latter, but not the former, are school sponsored," asserts the brief.

Americans United filed the brief jointly with the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the American Jewish Committee and People For the American Way.

The Good News Club case will be argued before the Supreme Court this month with a decision expected by July.

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.