A Bible-based children’s ministry won a major religious liberty victory this week against a Rhode Island school district when a federal judge signed an order requiring the district to permit access to the organization’s Good News Clubs.
The controversy involved an alleged decision by the Providence Public School District to deny access to Child Evangelism Fellowship’s afterschool Good News Clubs, which meet on school property and teach the Bible to children. Sometimes, teachers lead the sessions.
Liberty Counsel sued the school district in March on behalf of the clubs, alleging a violation of constitutionally protected freedoms.
The two sides reached a consent agreement in an order signed Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Mary S. McElroy.
“Providence Public School District is hereby permanently enjoined from denying Child Evangelism Fellowship equal access to its facilities,” the judge wrote. “... Child Evangelism Fellowship shall be allowed access to District facilities on an equal basis with similarly situated organizations, such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Girls on the Run.”
The order said the district does not “concede all of the allegations” and disputes “some claims arising in this action” but wishes “to resolve this matter now.”
Liberty Counsel alleged that the school district stonewalled repeated requests from Child Evangelism Fellowship to allow the clubs to meet even while the district allowed other clubs to meet. The judge’s order said the “Parties agree that Providence Public School District is required, under the First Amendment, to provide Child Evangelism Fellowship access to District facilities that is equal to and on the same terms as other similarly situated nonreligious organizations.”
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, called it a “great victory” for Child Evangelism Fellowship, students and parents.
“Public schools cannot discriminate against Christian viewpoints regarding use of school facilities,” Staver said. “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.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Vladimir Cetinski
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.