Sunday, March 3, 2024

Anti-Christian Discrimination? Good News Club Fights for Equal Access in CA School District

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A California school district is being accused by a Christian religious rights law firm of unlawfully prohibiting a ministry from using the district’s public facilities to hold its after-school Good News Clubs. 

The Maitland, Florida-based Liberty Counsel said Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, and the school board are discriminating against Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) NorCal East Bay by denying its elementary school Good News Clubs from using to its facilities on an equal basis with other similar non-religious organizations.

Since January 2023, CEF NorCal East Bay has requested to use public facilities to resume holding its after-school clubs on four elementary school campuses. But OUSD has violated state and federal laws by denying those requests, the nonprofit law firm said, noting the district has failed to respond to its second demand letter dated Dec. 8, 2023. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Oakland Unified School District must give the Good News Clubs equal treatment as the similarly situated non-religious groups on public school campuses. Equal access means equal treatment in terms of use of the facilities, including fee waivers, time of meetings, and announcements.” 

The school district previously allowed CEF NorCal East Bay to host Good News Clubs on its campuses before the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic, the school district canceled all clubs in the Spring of 2020. 

However, when CEF requested to resume the Good News Clubs throughout the Spring and Fall of 2023, elementary school officials responded with a variety of denials. According to Liberty Counsel, in one of the denials, a principal overtly displayed religious viewpoint discrimination stating in an email, “As a public school, we are not in support of Evangelism on our campus.”

The district also reportedly denied CEF NorCal East Bay because there was “no space” available even when spaces were listed as available online. In addition, the district failed to grant the organization’s “community partnership” application in a consistent manner with other similarly situated groups, the law firm said. 

Liberty Counsel sent its first demand letter to Dr. Johnson-Trammell in March 2023 notifying the district that denying Good News Clubs equal access based on CEF’s religious beliefs is viewpoint discrimination. 

After the school district continued to deny the Good News Clubs equal access, the law firm sent a second demand letter in December 2023 reiterating unlawful viewpoint discrimination. To date, while other organizations such as Girls on the Run and Berkely Chess School are allowed to use school facilities for after-school programs, school officials have not responded to Liberty Counsel or to CEF’s partnership application. 

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In the letter to the school district, the attorneys for Liberty Counsel noted, “Viewpoint discrimination is impermissible. As set forth previously at length, the U.S. Supreme Court and various federal courts have confirmed that organizations holding a religious viewpoint may not be subjected to discrimination on the basis of their religious viewpoint.”  

In June 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court in Good News Club v. Milford Central School ruled that public schools violate the First Amendment by not providing equal access and equal treatment to Christian clubs when the school has opened the forum to secular clubs. 

The law firm’s attorneys also told district officials in the letter that their actions were similar to those of the Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island. In July 2023,  a federal district court approved a Consent Decree that prevents the Providence Public School District from discriminating against CEF, declaring the Christian clubs are permanently entitled to equal access “on the same terms” as other after-school clubs. 

CBN News has reached out to the Oakland Unified School District for comment. We’ll post it here when we hear back. 

As CBN News has reported, founded 87 years ago, the CEF is an international non-profit worldwide children’s ministry. CEF Good News Clubs positively impact the lives of children and their families. Good News Clubs typically meet once per week, immediately after school, and are led by trained and vetted local community volunteers. The clubs provide religious and other teaching and activities to encourage learning, spiritual growth, and service to others, as well as social, emotional, character, and leadership development.

The ministry also reports school officials are seeing the positive difference the Christian clubs make. A survey of over 200 principals from 28 states reported that 87 percent of those principals where the clubs are located “noticed an improvement in student behavior.” 

One principal said: “Since the Good News Club has been a part of our school, the office referrals have decreased.”

Good News Clubs do not charge any fee and welcome children with written permission from parents. There are currently 3,041 Good News Clubs in public elementary schools across the United States. 

Liberty Counsel has represented approximately 200 CEF cases nationally and has never lost a case involving Good News Clubs. 

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