Religious youth group continues battle for access to N.Y. public school

Thursday, February 24, 2000

A Christian youth group won’t give up a legal battle to gain access to public school facilities in a New York district.

Earlier this month a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to uphold a school district policy that bars outside groups from using school facilities for religious purposes. Late last week the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute, which is representing the Good News Club, filed an appeal seeking a full-court review of the case.

In the early 1990s, the Milford Central School District created a “Community Use Policy” that set conditions for the use of school property by outside organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts and the 4-H Club. The policy allows residents to use school facilities “for holding social, civic and recreational meetings and entertainment events and other uses pertaining to the welfare of the community.” It also, however, expressly prohibits school premises from being “used by any individual or organization for religious purposes.”

In 1996, the Good News Club, which describes itself as a community-based Christian youth group for children 6 to 12, submitted a request to the district superintendent to use the building. The club said it planned to use the school for “singing songs, hearing a Bible lesson and memorizing scripture.” Superintendent Robert C. McGruder, with advice from the school’s attorney, denied the request, saying the club’s proposed use would be the “equivalent of religious worship … rather than the expression of religious views or values on a secular purpose.”

In early 1997 the club sued the school district alleging its decision was based on religious discrimination and violated the club’s First Amendment rights. In October 1998, a U.S. district judge upheld Milford’s school-use policy, noting that the First Amendment does not guarantee “unbridled access to public property.”

On Feb. 3, 2000, the 2nd Circuit upheld the district court ruling in