Hawaii CEF Good News Club Files Suit Over Equal Access

Jan 24, 2024

Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Hawaii (CEF) against the Hawaii State Department of Education and the superintendents of four of its locations for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, state laws, and school policies by discriminating against and blocking CEF from hosting its elementary school Good News Clubs in certain district facilities that are open to other, similarly situated non-religious organizations. 

CEF Hawaii is a Christian non-profit organization and a subsidiary of Child Evangelism Fellowship Inc., an international non-profit worldwide children’s ministry. CEF Good News Clubs positively impact the lives of children and their families. Good News Clubs typically meet once per week, immediately after school, and are led by trained and vetted local community volunteers. The clubs provide religious and other teaching and activities to encourage learning, spiritual growth, and service to others, as well as social, emotional, character, and leadership development. Good News Clubs do not charge a fee and welcome children with written permission from parents. There are currently 3041 Good News Clubs in public elementary schools across the United States, including several in Hawaii schools.

Prior to COVID-19, CEF Hawaii had active Good News Clubs in over a dozen schools on Oahu and other islands. Then after restricting after-school programs due to COVID-19, school officials partially restarted after-school programs in November 2021, and fully restored after-school programs in 2022. 

In 2022, CEF Hawaii submitted applications to host Good News Clubs in several schools, including Nu’uanu Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Waimea Elementary, Kalihi Waena Elementary, Kohala Elementary School, and Pearl City Elementary. 

However, the Hawaii State Department of Education, through the Superintendent Defendants and other officials, have denied every request submitted by CEF and either expressly or effectively denied every appeal, while allowing access for other similar groups to meet after school on campus. 

On December 12, 2022, CEF submitted an application to Nu’uanu Elementary School to host a Good News Club immediately after school. On January 12, 2023, CEF received a letter from the principal denying the application because the school was not permitted to host its after-school program “because it was religious,” even though at least ten non-religious after-school programs use school facilities, including some several times per week. 

On May 2, 2022, CEF submitted an application to Lincoln Elementary School to host the after-school club on campus or even outdoors. The same day, the school principal denied the request asserting that the school “simply had too many organizations already using district facilities.” On August 25, 2022, CEF submitted a new application and the principal denied it because she “did not like the idea of a Good News Club meeting at the elementary school.” Then on December 12, 2022, CEF submitted a third application and has never received a response. On February 27, 2023, CEF appealed the denial and also has never received a response. 

On August 2, 2022, CEF submitted an application to Waimea Elementary School to host a Good News Club at the school. On September 23, 2022, the principal denied CEF’s request on the purported basis that the facility “did not have any available classroom space,” even though a Girl Scouts troop was using the school building for its meetings. On December 12, 2022, CEF submitted a second request and the school district never responded and continues to deny the Good News Club access to district facilities on an equal basis with other similar non-religious organizations. 

On December 12, 2022, CEF submitted a use application to Kalihi Waena Elementary School for a Good News Club at the school and the principal denied the application on February 16, 2023, without any explanation. However, the school allowed a Cub Scouts troop to use the school facilities for regular meetings. On February 27, 2023, after having appealed the decision to the State Board of Education and the relevant officials, the school officials never responded to CEF’s applications and communications and continues to discriminate and deny CEF access to district facilities. 

On October 3, 2023, CEF submitted an application to Kohala Elementary School for a Good News Club at the school. On November 16, 2023, the principal denied the application stating there was not sufficient room and that it would interfere with teacher preparation time. 

On December 12, 2023, CEF submitted an application to Pearl City Elementary School to host an after-school Good News Club on campus. Two days later, school officials denied the application. 

In June 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court in Good News Club v. Milford Central School ruled that public schools violate the First Amendment by not providing equal access and equal treatment to Christian clubs when the school has opened the forum to secular clubs, as in this case. 

Liberty Counsel represents CEF nationally and has never lost a case involving Good News Clubs. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public schools cannot discriminate against Christian viewpoints regarding use of school facilities. Child Evangelism Fellowship gives children a biblically based education that includes moral and character development. Good News Clubs should be in every public elementary school and that includes in these Hawaii schools.” 

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