Thursday, August 02, 2007

School District Faces Federal Lawsuit for Stonewalling Religious Club

Today Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit against the Gadsden City School District on behalf of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Alabama (CEF) and its director, Ed Solomon, because of the district's discriminatory treatment of CEF. The lawsuit asks that the district be required to treat CEF clubs on an equal basis with secular groups that have used school facilities. CEF staff made several written and oral requests to Gadsden City School Superintendent Rob Russell for a meeting about the club, but the superintendent refused to discuss the issue.

The district policy states that "organizations devoted to instruction of children or well-being of the community" shall be permitted to use district facilities so long as the applicant obtains permission from the principal and the superintendent. The policy does not contain any timelines, procedures or other free speech safeguards that are required by the Constitution.

District facilities have been used by various secular groups including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Junior Achievement, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and Cub Scouts. In July 2004, CEF applied to meet after school with Bob Russell, the superintendent. The superintendent did not respond and refused to return calls. CEF then sent another written request in August 2005, and the superintendent ignored the request and refused to return phone calls. In September 2006, CEF send a third written request and made repeated phone calls to Mr. Russell, and he refused to meet with CEF representatives. He also refused to respond to emails. Earlier this year, CEF contacted Liberty Counsel for assistance. Even after Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to Mr. Russell and the school board members, the district did not respond.

Good News Clubs are a free, nationwide, after-school program for children between the ages of five and twelve. At the meetings, trained CEF teachers present lessons from the Bible and teach children character development, moral values, interpersonal skills and respect for authority.

Liberty Counsel has been successful in helping CEF fight discrimination against Good News Clubs all across America. Many issues are solved without litigation, but Liberty Counsel does not hesitate to sue when school officials are unwilling to abide by the Constitution.

The history of this case illustrates why the policies affecting speech must have specific criteria and time limits, so that government officials are precluded from censoring speech by inaction or delay. Good News Clubs teach morals and character development from a Christian viewpoint, and they have been profoundly effective in changing the lives of young children for the better. Good News Clubs are good for students and good for schools. Public schools should be begging Child Evangelism Fellowship to start Good News Clubs.