News for the Good News Club
Supreme Court ruled (6-3) this week in Good News Club v. Milford
Central School (No. 99-2036) that a school policy of denying
access to school grounds for a weekly afterschool meeting of elementary
age students by the Good News Club, a Christian organization, violated
the free speech rights of the Club. The Court further found that
permitting the Club to meet on school grounds would not violate
the Establishment Clause. The case was remanded for further proceedings
consistent with the Supreme Courts ruling.
"equal access" case was heard on appeal from the 2nd
Circuit decision that a New York elementary school policy limiting
all religious use of its facilities was reasonable because the exclusion
was viewpoint neutral and did not violate the free speech clause.
In recognizing a conflict among the Courts of Appeals on the question
whether religious speech can be excluded from a limited public forum,
the Court granted certiorari.
this case, the parties agreed that the school created a limited
public forum when it opened its facilities, in accordance with New
York law, for, among other things, "instruction in any branch
of education, learning or the arts . . . [and] social, civic and
recreational meetings and entertainment events, and other uses pertaining
to the welfare of the community, provided that such uses shall be
nonexclusive and shall be opened to the general public." In
cases involving a limited public forum the Court noted that the
States power to restrict speech is limited to instances of
viewpoint neutrality and reasonable in light of the purpose served
by the forum.
Rehnquist, OConnor, Scalia and Kennedy joined Justice Thomas,
writing for the majority. Justice Breyer joined in part, filing
a concurring opinion. Justice Scalia also filed a concurring opinion.
Justice Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, as did Justice Souter,
who was joined by Justice Ginsburg.
on the earlier cases of Lambs Chapel v. Center Moriches
Union Free School Dist., 508 U.S. 384 (1993) and Rosenberger
v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819 (1995),
the Court found that the school engaged in viewpoint discrimination
when it denied the Club access to the school facilities on the basis
that the Club discussed subject matters from a religious viewpoint.
In noting its disagreement with the reasoning of the Court of Appeals,
the Court stated that "[w]hat matters for purposes of the Free
Speech Clause is that we can see no logical difference in kind between
the invocation of Christianity by the Club and the invocation of
teamwork, loyalty, or patriotism by other associations to provide
a foundation for their lessons."
second question the Court addressed was the validity of the school
boards interest in not violating the Establishment Clause.
Again relying on earlier precedent, the Court concluded that the
school has no valid Establishment Clause interest because "the
Clubs meetings were held after school hours, not sponsored
by the school, and open to any student who obtained parental consent,
not just to Club members." Additionally, the Court found unpersuasive
the school districts argument that "[the elementary school]
children will perceive that the school is endorsing the Club and
will feel coercive pressure to participate, because the Clubs
activities take place on school grounds, even though they occur
during nonschool hours."
Souter dedicates the majority of his dissent to disputing the majoritys
holding on the Establishment Clause question because he believes
that additional facts must be obtained regarding the use of the
facilities by other groups. Justice Breyer echoes this concern in