After-School 'Good News Clubs' Gain Victory
The Virginia chapter of Child Evangelism Fellowship has gained victory in a religious discrimination case and will now be allowed to hold after-school Good News Clubs at area schools with the same free access afforded to other organizations like Boy Scouts.
On Monday, Judge Raymond Jackson of the Virginia Eastern District Court ordered a school district in Williamsburg to repay about $1,200 in facilities usage fees charged to the Good News Club, plus $20,000 in attorney fees.
The court opinion pointed out the vague language in the Williamsburg-James City County School Board's policy that "empowers its superintendent to decide which organizations are allowed to have fee waivers without setting forth any concrete standards."
The federal judge had last month ordered the school district to stop charging Good News Club the $12.50 per hour fee, ruling that the policy unfairly discriminated against a Christian group.
The CEF of Virginia had requested permission to hold Good News Clubs - which teach children respect, good citizenship, moral values and character development from a biblical perspective - at D.J. Montague Elementary School. The school district allowed the group to meet but refused to waive any fees.
Represented by Liberty Counsel, which had previously won a case for another CEF group in South Carolina, the CEF of Virginia filed suit, contending the school board's policy was unconstitutional.
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"We told school officials their policy was unconstitutional. They didn't listen, so we filed suit and they learned the hard way that the First Amendment forbids religious discrimination," LC founder Matthew Staver said in a statement.
The school district has agreed to rewrite its policy, which will now allow city and school groups free use of school facilities, according to The Daily Press.
Liberty Counsel is currently working with CEF in many states to obtain equal access at schools to hold and promote its Good News Clubs.
In the latest case, the Florida-based legal group filed suit on behalf of CEF of Minnesota against Elk River Area School District for discriminatory treatment, saying the district does not allow CEF to distribute literature and participate in school events to promote its after-school children's program.