Child Evangelism Fellowship Seeks Court Order To Eliminate Discriminatory Fee Barrier To School Facilities

Aug 3, 2004

Charlottesville, Virginia – Child Evangelism Fellowship (“CEF”), which sponsors the Good News Club, a religious after-school club for elementary school children, filed a federal lawsuit against the Louisa County School District today after the District insisted on charging the Club a discriminatory fee for accessing the school facilities. CEF is represented by Mathew Staver, President and General Counsel for Liberty Counsel, and Rena Lindevaldsen, Senior Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel.

On October 14, 2003, Terry Champion, with CEF of Jouett, applied to reserve the school district’s facilities to hold a Good News Club within the district. The application requested use of a classroom in Jouett Elementary every Tuesday after school from 3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. beginning on October 21, 2003. The District has a policy that allows various groups such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, and others, to use its facilities free of charge. Ms. Champion wrote on the Club’s application: “The Good News Club falls under the same class of groups as the scouting and 4-H clubs. Therefore, we would qualify for use at no fee.” However, the District Assistant Superintendent, Ralph Moore, stated that the Club could use the facility but only if it paid an hourly rental fee.

According to Staver, placing a financial barrier based on the religious viewpoint of groups seeking to access public property violates the right to free speech. Staver commented, “Whether the school bans a group from accessing its facilities, or places a financial barrier on the group based on its religious viewpoint, the outcome is the same – the Constitution has been violated. Equal access means equal treatment.” The lawsuit seeks an immediate court order striking down the District’s Policy and permitting the Good News Clubs equal access to the facilities.

Staver stated: “It is unconstitutional to prohibit Christian groups from using public school facilities when secular groups are permitted to do so. The United States Supreme Court, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs Virginia, ruled that a discriminatory fee policy against religious organizations is unconstitutional.” Staver remarked, “One thing is clear – a policy excluding persons or groups from using school facilities, or one that imposes discriminatory fees for similar groups solely because of their religious viewpoint, is unconstitutional.”