Good News Clubs Must Have Equal Access in Hawaii

Apr 11, 2024

HONOLULU, HI – Liberty Counsel filed a reply brief on behalf of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Hawaii (CEF) against the Hawaii State Department of Education and four of its superintendents for unconstitutionally 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.  

As a result of the state’s violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, state laws, and school policies, Liberty Counsel is seeking an injunction for CEF Hawaii’s Good News Clubs to gain equal access to public facilities to host its after school program. 

In the lawsuit, six different elementary schools repeatedly denied CEF Hawaii access to public school facilities over a three-year period. While the Hawaii State Department of Education concedes that one school’s denial was based on religion, and another was due to a “misapplication” of school policies, the Department of Education did nothing to correct those mistakes. CEF Hawaii contends that after it appealed the “blatant religious discrimination” of these denials to the Department of Education, it never received any response, nor did school officials take any corrective actions. 

Liberty Counsel stated in the reply brief that the Department chose “silence” over correcting the “unequal and unconstitutional treatment” by its own officials. 

Notably, the Department of Education contends the other denials were not religious discrimination because there were no specific reasons given for the denials even though other similarly situated nonreligious groups were given access to facilities. In response, Liberty Counsel cites previous court precedents that ruled the First Amendment is violated when government authorities deny equal access without a specific reason. Liberty Counsel argues that while the defendants believe these empty denials serve as “refuge” shielding them from wrongdoing, the denials are actually the defendants’ “greatest vice” and condemns their policies under the First Amendment. 

“[A] single instance of unlawful conduct can suffice to warrant injunctive relief,” the brief concluded. 

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 3,041 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. 

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

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Hawaii education officials have no defense for their discriminatory actions. 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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