Sunday, March 3, 2024

‘Good News Club’ Files Lawsuit After Hawaiian School Districts Deny Access

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Four school districts in Hawaii have denied a Christian school club access to their facilities while allowing other after-school programs to meet on campus. And now the after-school program is filing a lawsuit against the districts for violating its First Amendment rights.

Non-profit legal group, Liberty Counsel, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Hawaii (CEF) against the Hawaii State Department of Education and the superintendents of four schools for not allowing its Good News Club to meet on site.

The lawsuit claims the schools violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, state laws, and school policies by blocking the Good News Club in elementary schools.

“Despite this history of enriching after-school programs for Hawaii students, CEF has been subject to multiple instances of opposition, hostility, and discrimination by Defendants and their officials,” reads the lawsuit. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, CEF Hawaii had active Good News Clubs in over a dozen schools on Oahu and other islands. Then after restricting after-school programs due to COVID-19, school officials partially restarted after-school programs in November 2021.

It fully restored after-school programs in 2022. 

CEF Hawaii submitted applications to host Good News Clubs in several schools that year, including Nu’uanu Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Waimea Elementary, Kalihi Waena Elementary, Kohala Elementary School, and Pearl City Elementary. 

However, the Hawaii State Department of Education has denied every request submitted by CEF at these locations while allowing access for other groups to meet after school on campus.

“According to the law, Good News Clubs must be given equal access as the non-religious groups on public school campuses. Equal access means equal treatment including the use of on-campus facilities, fee waivers, time of meetings, and announcements,” explained Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver.

At Nu’uanu Elementary School, the CEF received a letter from the principal last January denying the application, stating the school was not permitted to host its after-school program “because it was religious,” even though 10 non-religious after-school programs use school facilities, including some several times per week.

On May 2, 2022, CEF applied to Lincoln Elementary School to host the after-school club on campus or even outdoors. 

The same day, the school principal denied the request claiming the school “simply had too many organizations already using district facilities.” 

A few months later, CEF submitted a new application and the principal denied it because she “did not like the idea of a Good News Club meeting at the elementary school.” 

On December 12, 2022, CEF submitted a third application and has never received a response. The following February, CEF appealed the denial but never received a response. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public schools cannot discriminate against Christian viewpoints regarding use of school facilities. Child Evangelism Fellowship gives children a biblically based education that includes moral and character development. Good News Clubs should be in every public elementary school and that includes in these Hawaii schools,” said Staver. 

The Missouri-based CEF started in 1937 and operates clubs in the U.S. and around the world. It has reached more than 15 million children worldwide with more than 55,000 club meetings. In the U.S. alone, 3,000 clubs meet and share the Gospel with children who participate on a voluntary basis.

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, according to their attorneys. 

Liberty Counsel represents CEF nationally and has never lost a case involving Good News Clubs.

CBN News has reached out to the Hawaii State Board of Education for comment. We will add it here if we hear back. 

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