U.S. Supreme Court Takes Case About Religious Groups' Access To Public Schools

'schools Have Every Right To Protect Children From Outside Groups,' Says AU's Lynn

The United States Supreme Court announced this morning that it will hear a New York case regarding a Christian evangelism group that was denied permission to use a public elementary school after classes.

The controversy began in 1996 when the Good News Club sought permission to hold meetings at Milford Central School in Milford, N.Y., immediately after school hours. The adult-run club, which is sponsored by a fundamentalist church, planned to use the facility for religious lessons and worship. Club sponsors divide young children into groups of "saved" and "unsaved," and all lessons encourage students' conversion to Christianity.

The school rejected the request, insisting that its policy allowing community use of its facility for "social, civic and recreational" meetings does not extend to this club.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State said that the policy at issue in Good News Club v. Milford Central School is a clear example of school officials working to provide safeguards for young children.

"Public schools have every right to limit the use of their facilities to protect children from outside groups," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This case deals with a religious group that targets children for evangelism. We believe the group does not have a constitutional right to evangelize on elementary school grounds right after classes end, and we hope the Supreme Court agrees."

The Good News Club's lawsuit was rejected twice in federal courts. While the justices have issued rulings in the past on questions about groups' access to school facilities, this is the first case to consider adults on elementary school campuses.

"It's important to note that this case deals with a narrow question and does not reopen the question of school-sponsored prayer," Lynn concluded. "This is rather a question of an outside group of adults having access to elementary schools."

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.