Monday, January 28, 2008

Lawsuit Filed Against School Board For Discrimination Against Christian Club

Liberty Counsel has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Virginia (CEF) against Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools (“WJCC”), aimed at halting discriminatory treatment against the Christian organization.

The WJCC School Board insists on charging the Good News Club a facility usage fee, while granting Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and other “patriotic” and community service organizations a waiver for usage fees. CEF of Virginia’s initial request for a fee waiver was denied, and Liberty Counsel sent a letter informing the board that the First Amendment requires that CEF be accorded equal treatment with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and similar service organizations. WJCC officials still denied CEF a fee waiver. WJCC policy gives the superintendent discretion to waive usage fees “in consideration of services rendered by public institutions or nonprofit organizations in direct support of public school students or staff.” Although CEF falls into that category, WJCC’s superintendent refused to grant CEF a fee waiver.

CEF is a nonprofit organization, and its after-school Good News Clubs provide lessons on responsible citizenship, including character development, respect for authority and community service from a Biblical viewpoint. These lessons complement the goals set forth in the school board’s policy under the heading “Educational Philosophy.” That policy states, “[T]he most important challenge facing the school is to provide each student with experiences for meeting his/her needs as a participating, responsible citizen in a democratic society.” The policy further provides that “to accomplish these goals, all available resources in the community, the home and the school must be used.”

WJCC recognizes the Boy Scouts and other youth-focused groups as beneficial community resources but continues to segregate the Good News Club by imposing the facility usage fee in violation of the U.S. Constitution. WJCC has attempted to justify its discriminatory treatment by saying that it is required to give free access to patriotic organizations, but that it’s not required under the No Child Left Behind Act to give free access to Good News Clubs. This argument is absurd. If anything, the Act strengthens the argument that Good News Clubs should receive free access to the facilities like the scouts and other patriotic organizations.

Equal access is the law, and equal access means equal treatment in every respect. Good News Clubs are one of the most positive influences that public schools can offer to parents and their children. It is absurd that anyone would want to reject an organization that promotes morality, responsibility, and character development. These are qualities that young children need to learn about and develop.