Court-Approved Settlement Opens Doors For Good News Clubs In San Diego City Schools

Jan 3, 2006

Federal Judge Irma Gonzales has now approved a settlement between San Diego City Schools ("District") and Child Evangelism Fellowship ("CEF"), which sponsors Good News Clubs. The settlement partially ends a lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel on behalf of CEF seeking free and equal access to conduct after-school Good News Club meetings. The amount of attorney's fees owed by the San Diego City Schools is still pending.

Good News Clubs are religious, after-school clubs for elementary school children, ages 5-12. District policy provided free use of the facilities to groups servicing district youth. When CEF applied for use of school facilities, District officials insisted that CEF pay "fair rental value" because, the District claimed, CEF is a "church conducting religious services." From 1999 to 2005, CEF was charged fees to use the school facilities when other similar secular groups were not. Each year the District increased the amount of the fees. The fees became so cost prohibitive that CEF was forced to discontinue the Good News Clubs. District employees and parents pleaded for the Good News Clubs to return, but the increased usage costs prohibited the meetings.

The settlement repeals the former discriminatory policy and implements a new one that provides CEF with free and equal access to District facilities. CEF will immediately begin meeting on the District campuses. The federal court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the settlement. The court will also issue a ruling on the amount of attorney's fees the District is required to pay. San Diego City Schools is the second largest school district in California, behind the Los Angeles Unified School District ("LAUSD"). In 2003, Liberty Counsel won a similar suit against LAUSD on behalf of CEF. In another Liberty Counsel case in 2004, a federal court of appeals ruled that public school teachers and staff may conduct Good News Club meetings on campus immediately after the last bell.

Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, stated: "Every public elementary school ought to welcome Good News Clubs. Parents appreciate them; children love them; and the First Amendment protects them. The First Amendment requires that similar groups be provided with equal treatment. Religious speech is not a disability. It is our preeminent freedom."