Oakland School District Denies Bible Club Equal Access

Jan 29, 2024

OAKLAND, CA – Liberty Counsel sent two demand letters to Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), including to Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell and the school board, for discriminating against Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) NorCal East Bay by denying its elementary school Good News Clubs access to district facilities on an equal basis with other similar non-religious organizations. Since January 2023, CEF NorCal East Bay has requested to use public facilities to resume holding the after-school clubs on four different campuses.

However, the school district has violated state and federal law by denying these requests and has failed to respond to Liberty Counsel’s last demand letter sent December 8, 2023.

The school district previously allowed CEF NorCal East Bay to host Good News Clubs on its campuses prior to COVID. In response to COVID, the school district cancelled all clubs in Spring 2020. However, when CEF requested to resume the Good News Clubs throughout the Spring and Fall of 2023, elementary school officials responded with a variety of denials. In one of the denials, a principal overtly displayed religious viewpoint discrimination stating in an email, “As a public school, we are not in support of Evangelism on our campus.”

The district also denied CEF NorCal East Bay because there was “no space” available even when spaces were listed as available online. In addition, the district failed to grant the organization’s “community partnership” application in a consistent manner with other similarly situated groups. 

Liberty Counsel sent its first demand letter to Dr. Johnson-Trammell in March 2023 notifying the district denying Good News Clubs equal access based on CEF’s religious viewpoint is viewpoint discrimination. 

After the school district continued to deny the Good News Clubs equal access, Liberty Counsel sent a second demand letter in December 2023 reiterating unlawful viewpoint discrimination. To date, while other organizations such as Girls on the Run and Berkely Chess School are allowed to use school facilities for after school programs, school officials have not responded to Liberty Counsel nor to CEF’s partnership application. 

CEF is 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 any fee and welcome children with written permission from parents. There are currently 3,041 Good News Clubs in public elementary schools across the United States. 

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. 

Liberty Counsel has represented approximately 200 CEF cases nationally and has never lost a case involving Good News Clubs. 

In July 2023, CEF Rhode Island prevailed in Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit against the Providence Public School District. Due to the legal victory, Good News Clubs in the state are now free to hold after school Bible clubs. A federal district court approved a Consent Decree that prevents the Providence Public School District from discriminating against CEF, declaring the Christian clubs are permanently entitled to equal access “on the same terms” as other after school clubs. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Oakland Unified School District must give the Good News Clubs equal treatment as the similarly situated non-religious groups on public school campuses. Equal access means equal treatment in terms of use of the facilities, including fee waivers, time of meetings, and announcements.” 

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