Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Christine Emerson
Observer Staff Writer 

Rare Victory for Christian Group to Use Cleveland School Facilities.

Ohio federal court rules CMSD violated religious group's 1st, 14th Amendment rights denying it use of facilities for programs on the same fee basis as other organizations.

 

June 30, 2016

Euclid Avenue Presbyterian Church in Cleveland, Ohio

A Christian group which was denied use of facilities at Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) today prevailed in a federal lawsuit that requires the school to ensure religious group have equal access going forward.

Plaintiff's filed a Federal Complaint after CEF sought equal access to the school district's facilities for its after school Christian charter education programs. The school district wanted to charge rent, which CEF could not pay, forcing it to shut down its after-school club.

In its consent order a Ohio district federal court ruled the CMSD violated the religious group's rights under the1st and 14th Amendment, in blocking its use of facilities for programs on the same fee basis as other organizations. In the future, the School District must allow CEF the same access to school facilities as Boy Scouts and other non-religious organizations.

The three-year lawsuit is a major victory for equal access according to a prepared statement by Liberty Counsel, which represented Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). From their press release

An Ohio federal district court has ruled that the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) may not discriminate against religious groups. Up until this ruling, the CMSD imposed facility fees on Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) to hold their after-school Christian character Good News Club at school facilities. Other groups, such as Boy Scouts, were allowed to use school facilities for free.

Since CEF was unable to pay the fees for use of the school facilities, they were forced to close the Good News Club.

Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to religious freedom," filed a federal lawsuit in 2013 alleging that CEF's constitutional rights were being violated by the Cleveland school district. Today, the federal court agreed with the suit, ordering the school district to change its facility use policy and pay $150,000 in attorney's fees and damages.

CEF has been operational for 70 years and has branches in every state as well as over 183 foreign countries. There are 43,186 Good News Clubs worldwide. More than 87 percent of school principals report that the after-school clubs have been a positive experience for their school.

Horatio Mihet, VP of Legal Affairs at Liberty Counsel, said, "Equal access mean equal access. Public schools cannot discriminate against Christian viewpoints. It is a shame that CMSD wasted three years in litigation to learn a basic civics and constitutional lesson."

Old Stone Church in Downtown Cleveland, Ohio

"Many public schools are under the mistaken belief that the constitutional clause establishing the separation of church and state means that no religious speech or activity is allowed on school grounds. Instead, the establishment clause means that no religion can be the official religion of the public school. The First Amendment provides for free exercise of religion, which may not be violated by schools overly zealous and confused about separation of church and state."

The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.

 
 

Reader Comments
(1)

Surfer writes:

This is not a RARE victory. Christians have been winning religious equality in schools and freedom of speech lawsuits in schools for decades. Do a web search for Good News Club. Our nation's founders were almost all devout Christians. Their tolerance toward religious faith and freedom of religious speech is reflected in the Bill of Rights.

 
 
 

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