Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Anti-Christian Group Files Suit over Free Use of School Facilities for Christian Party Club

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a lawsuit against Elizabeth Burmaster, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Mark McGuire, District Administrator of the Rio Community School District, for providing a Christian ministry equal access to meet in school facilities free of charge. Liberty Counsel has now filed a motion to intervene in the case, in order to defend the constitutional rights of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Wisconsin (CEF). Liberty Counsel is siding with the school district against the erroneous claims of FFRF.

CEF sponsors the Good News Club for children ages 5 to 12 and also sponsors the Party Club, which is a monthly after-school function for students to enjoy games, crafts, songs, Bible lessons, and scripture memorization. The Rio School Board policy allows all nonprofit organizations to use the school facilities free of charge. Since CEF is a nonprofit organization, this entitles them free usage along with other nonprofits, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The open-access policy also permits CEF and other secular groups to post and distribute information announcing the availability of the after-school opportunities. After receiving a threatening letter, the school district refused to give in to pressure from Annie Laurie Gaylor and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

FFRF erroneously argues that the free use of classrooms after school by CEF violates the Wisconsin constitution, which states: “Nothing in this constitution shall prohibit the legislature from authorizing, by law, the use of public school buildings by civic, religious or charitable organizations during non-school hours upon payment by the organization to the school district of reasonable compensation for such use.” However, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which preempts state law, requires that CEF and other religious organizations be accorded equal treatment with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and similar secular organizations.

If the district bowed to the pressure from FFRF and denied access to CEF on account of its religious viewpoint, the district would violate the United States Constitution’s protection under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clauses.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation pushes the most antireligious agenda of any organization in the country. The goal of the Foundation is a religion-free society. The First Amendment provides freedom of religion and not eradication of religion. The school district’s policy providing equal access is clearly constitutional. Religious viewpoints are fully protected under the First Amendment.