Scholastic Showdown

Battle for religious liberty continues in schools, colleges

Scholastic Showdown

Battle for religious liberty continues in schools, colleges

Many American Christians breathed a sigh of relief after November’s national elections brought an end to a progressive administration that over eight years became increasingly hostile to people of faith.

But despite a new administration, the enemies of faith continue to try to push all religion out of public life. Many of the attacks involve schools. In elementary and secondary schools, atheists try to intimidate school districts despite clear laws that give faith-based groups the same right to operate as secular groups. And at some colleges and universities, faith-based groups fight an uphill battle to gain or retain official status on campus.

Two recent public school cases have had positive outcomes, and a New York college recently reversed a decision that had initially rejected the application of a pro-life group on campus.

Good News Clubs

In October, the Cascade School District, in Leavenworth, Wash., told Child Evangelism Fellowship that it could no longer distribute flyers about a Good News Club to K-5 students. The district’s ban came after a parent claimed that the flyers were “using the public school system to promote religion.”

Liberty Counsel responded a week later with a letter to district superintendent Bill Motsenbocker. In the letter, Liberty Counsel attorney Richard L. Mast Jr. explained that both the prohibition and the section of the school board policy that the prohibition was based upon were unconstitutional. He cited a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Good News Club v. Milford Central School District, that upheld the right of Good News Clubs to have the same access to students as other groups engaged in moral and character development.

In January, Liberty Counsel reported that the school district reversed both the ban and the underlying policy.

“The Cascade School District made the appropriate decision to eliminate the unconstitutional policy and recognize that the Good News Club has equal access to students,” said Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver. “Public schools cannot discriminate against Christian viewpoints and allow other organizations to promote their materials. We are elated with this victory for Child Evangelism Fellowship, for equal access and for our Constitution.”

Middle School Bible Study

In December, the American Humanist Association complained about a breakfast Bible study group at a middle school in Joplin, Mo., claiming that teachers and outside clergy members were leading students in prayer and Scripture readings. Similar groups also met at the two other middle schools in the district.

According to the Joplin Globe, school administrators investigated and concluded that the meetings are constitutional. Participation is voluntary, and the groups are led by students and funded privately. Officials halted the meetings, however, because of a board of education policy that restricts such groups to the high school level.

The meetings have now been allowed to resume under a different policy that allows community groups, including religious ones, to sponsor such meetings by renting the meeting space, providing proof of insurance and agreeing to hold the district harmless for any damages.

Lew Poe, a local youth pastor, said that he and the other local youth pastors who have been involved would gladly comply with those stipulations, and the meetings at all three schools resumed in mid-February.

Queens College Pro-life Club

Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit Jan. 25 against the officials of Queens College on behalf of a pro-life student organization that had been denied official college recognition. Two days later, the college reversed itself and announced that the group would be granted registered status.

According to ADF, the college, which is part of the City University of New York system, delayed and then rejected without explanation the application of Students for Life to be a registered student organization. The rejection meant that the group would not have been able to reserve meeting space on campus, bring speakers to campus or provide space where pregnant or parenting students could receive information and help.

“Public universities are supposed to provide a marketplace of ideas,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “But that market can’t function properly if the heavy hand of government promotes some views over others.”

Despite the college’s reversal in recognizing Students for Life, Mattox said the lawsuit will continue.

“While Queens College has done the right thing in recognizing the Students for Life club, the college still needs to change its egregiously unconstitutional policies,” he said. “Under those policies, the college will continue to deny funding to Students for Life from its members’ own student activity fees, and violate the First Amendment freedoms of other students as well. Our lawsuit will continue until we ensure that Queens College’s policies respect the constitutionally protected freedoms of all students.”

The Students for Life chapter at Queens College is affiliated with the nationwide organization Students for Life of America. Kristan Hawkins, president of the national body, remarked: “Too frequently we see that public colleges and universities feel they can deny recognition or funding to a student group just because officials don’t agree with the viewpoint of those students.” She added that abortion advocates often prefer to silence opposition rather than have a free exchange of ideas.”

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